By Peter Staunton
If Jose Mourinho was looking for evidence that now is the time to dispense with Petr Cech and recall Thibaut Courtois from his Atletico Madrid loan exile, then the Champions League quarter-finals will have provided plenty.
"We had clear chances to make it 2-1, but because of Courtois we’re leaving with a draw," Barcelona defender Marc Bartra told reporters following their quarter-final first-leg against Atletico Madrid.
Bartra had just witnessed one of the finest goalkeeping performances in Champions League history as Courtois made save after save to deny Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and others. He nearly got a hand to Neymar's equaliser for good measure.
Meanwhile, Cech was being beaten at his near post in injury-time as Chelsea fell to a 3-1 defeat against Paris Saint-Germain in France. He was slow to Ezequiel Lavezzi's opener and uncertain under the high ball as David Luiz's own goal made it two.
In a game of such magnitude, the goalkeeper - and moreover a senior figure - needs to be relied upon. He's no longer the type of goalkeeper who can keep Chelsea in matches they have no right to win.
|COURTOIS VS CECH - HEAD TO HEAD|
Courtois has become far too good for Chelsea to persist with the clanger-ridden Cech. The 31-year-old's influence in the dressing room at Stamford Bridge matters no longer. The Belgian is the better man for the job. Any club in the world would have to pay €40m plus to secure the services of such a talent, but for Chelsea he would come in for nothing. Now, they must sow the seeds of change.
Cech was around the same age as Courtois when he announced himself as a rival for the established Carlo Cudicini's place in the Chelsea first team. Mourinho should set Courtois upon Cech in a similar manner. He was a confident boy in signing for the Blues, stating as a teenager that he had been bought to replace Cech - then regarded as one of the best in the world.
Here is man who, over the course of three seasons, has helped Atletico to the Europa League, the European Super Cup, the Copa del Rey, Champions League football and into contention for La Liga. Diego Costa may provide the star quality for Diego Simeone's side but there is no doubting their MVP. For Chelsea to turn him down now would be negligent - bordering on self-sabotage.
“I’d put the best in," former Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink told Sky Sports this week over Chelsea's goalkeeping puzzle. "That’s Courtois."
Chelsea still hold all the power in regards to the Belgian's future. Atletico's president Enrique Cerezo wants Courtois to stay but the club are stony broke. Only through either Chelsea's extraordinary good will - or extraordinary stupidity - should he be lining out at the Vicente Calderon next term.
The 21-year-old stated last Saturday that no other club is in the picture for his signature and it's either Chelsea - for good - or Atletico for another season. "Next week it will become clear where I'm playing next season," he told Sporza after Atleti overcame Athletic Bilbao in a match in which he again excelled.
"It's certain that it will be Chelsea or Atletico and no other club. I can't say much more about it but, in the next weeks, there will be official news."
The player will have two more seasons remaining on his contract at the end of the campaign, having signed a five-year-deal when he joined from Genk for €8m in 2011. Mourinho is relaxed about the situation but Paul Pogba's form at Juventus after Manchester United dilly-dallied over his contract shows what happens when promising players have enough of being on the outside looking in. He will agitate to leave if he is not made first-choice.
There is no doubt that Cech remains a quality goalkeeper. Nonetheless, he has slipped from his perch as one of the world's pre-eminent exponents of the art. In that context, he has been usurped by the young and brilliant Courtois.
Mourinho has begun his overhaul of his loyal cadre of Chelsea lieutenants. Ashley Cole is more or less out of the picture. Frank Lampard plays less and less. The manager must now rid himself of the goalkeeper who served him well a decade ago and look to the future.
It is time for Thibaut Courtois to come home.