Thibaut Courtois of Belgium is one of the best goalkeepers in the world and one of the youngest players in this year’s World Cup. He’s signed with Chelsea, though played on loan last season in Madrid.
Here’s what you need to know about this show-stopper.
1. At 22, He’s Already Among the World’s Best Goalies
Colombian Radamel Falcao, one of the world’s best strikers, told Het Nieuwsblad that Courtois, a good personal friend of Falcao’s, is the best goalie in the world. Coming from Falcao, that means something. Yet Courtois hasn’t made a huge splash for Belgium in the World Cup, at least compared with some other great saves made by goalies around the world.
All eyes are on the Belgium–U.S. game on July 1, when Courtois will face off against Tim Howard, another of the world’s best goalkeepers. One great will be kicked off the World Cup pitch for good after the match.
2. Courtois is Cool, Calm & Collected
Thibault Courtois is anything but. He keeps his cool on the field, calculating strategically with an assuredness that many of his fellow players lack. He’s so laid back, in fact, that when Belgium beat Russia and advanced to the next round, while the rest of his teammates jumped and celebrated on the pitch, Courtois looked on with a contented smile.
3. He Made His First Team Debut at Age 16
Courtois got his start with Racing Genk, a Belgian youth league, and made his debut in 2009 in a game against Gent. He’d been a goalie since childhood, having played the position for about 10 years when he made his appearance in the Gent game. Things heated up for Courtois the next season, and in 2010–11 he conceded only 32 goals in 40 league matches. That year he was awarded the Goalkeeper of the Year and Genk’s Player of the Year awards. Chelsea made a play for him immediately following the winning season.
4. He’s Belgium’s Youngest Ever Keeper, & Some People Aren’t Happy
When selected for the Belgian national team in 2011, Courtois became the youngest player to ever be appointed as his country’s goalie. Back then, however, Simon Mignolet was still the first-string goalie for Belgium, and it wasn’t until World Cup training this year that a real feud emerged between them.
Mignolet said in February that he had been “unfairly dropped” as Belgium’s No. 1 keeper, which Courtois took as a personal attack:
It shows you don’t accept your manager’s calls—and you have no respect for the first choice. He needs to show respect for whoever is currently in that role.
5. It’s Not Certain Where He’ll Play Next Season
Courtois was signed by Chelsea after a breakout year in Belgium in 2009. Petr Cech, a Czech goalie who had for a long while been one of Chelsea’s biggest stars and assets, would soon be stepping into retirement and Chelsea needed a talented breakout star to fill the big shoes being left.
The club paid roughly $15.5 million to snag Courtois and then sent him on loan to Atletico Madrid to gain some experience. Turns out Courtois is a prodigy, and he soon was playing No. 1 for Madrid and arguably better than Cech, who was still on the pitch for Chelsea. So after the World Cup he’ll be going back to Chelsea, right?
Maybe not. In late June Chelsea announced its first-team squad selection on the team website, and Courtois wasn’t part of it. Will he go back to England anyway and sit second string to Cech? Or play where he’s appreciated?