HomeChelseaOutcast to favourite — The story of Thibaut Courtois

Outcast to favourite — The story of Thibaut Courtois

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Since the dawn of time, Real Madrid fans have been prioritising sacrifice and hard work above other, seemingly important, metrics.

Quality alone has never been enough to convince the ardent Madridistas, players have always needed to prove their temperament — exhibit their ability to withstand immeasurable pressure.

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Costa Rican shot-stopper, Keylor Navas, only managed to earn their trust after seasons of dedication and perseverance.

He needed blistering Champions League performances and match-winning saves to become their heart-throb.

However, once he did, there was no turning back. 

Real Madrid president, Florentino Perez, has always liked to shop in the World Cup window, bagging players that made a mark on the grandest stage of all.

As expected, Perez — who signed James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos in 2014 — went after the tournament’s standout keeper, Thibaut Courtois, and convinced him to move to the Spanish capital.

On paper, signing the ex-Atletico Madrid goalkeeper was a no-brainer. Real Madrid were getting a more reliable custodian who also had age on his side.

Fans, however, didn’t understand the urgency to go after another goalkeeper, especially when they had a three-peat winner at their disposal. 

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Thibaut Courtois at Real Madrid

Coach, Julen Lopetegui, gave the Belgian a breather in the first two La Liga confrontations, allowing Keylor Navas to take the centre-stage. Real Madrid comfortably won the first two encounters, keeping a clean sheet in the opening match of the season.

On matchday 3, Thibaut Courtois stood under the crossbar, hoping to earn his first clean sheet. Real Madrid failed to keep a clean sheet on the night, but they still cruised to a 4-1 win. 

Between matchday 6 and 10, Real Madrid endured their worst possible run of the season, losing four matches and drawing the other. Thibaut Courtois, who was tasked with keeping things tight at the back, ended up conceding 11 goals in those five.

Madridistas, who were already unhappy with the way Navas was being treated, now had a firmer voice — they wanted the former Chelsea man out of the Santiago Bernabeu. 

The unexpected hostility eventually took a toll on Thibaut Courtois, making him lose the confidence he had in himself. Keylor Navas, too, wasn’t spectacular by any means, but the fans were more generous, this time around, ready to forgive even his gravest sins. 

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Courtois ended the season with 35 appearances across all competitions, managing to keep only 10 clean sheets. The numbers weren’t good enough, everyone at the club knew that. Something needed to change, and fast. 

The departure of Keylor Navas made Courtois the undisputed first-choice. Now, he needed to earn his keep. Zinedine Zidane’s cunning defensive setup gave Courtois the shielding he needed to get going.

Soon enough, the performances took a drastic turn for the better. The shaky legs were gone; erroneous distribution, too. Real Madrid finally got to have a good look at their new keeper — the standout goalkeeper of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. 

Over the course of the 2019-20 campaign, the world has witnessed the reinvention of Thibaut Courtois, seen him emerge as one of the best goalkeepers — if not the best goalkeeper — in Europe.

Under Zidane, Courtois has improved his positioning, distribution, and command inside the box. The defenders finally have a brick wall to fall back on — something they haven’t had since Iker Casillas’ departure.

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 In 41 games this season, the Belgian has managed to keep 21 clean sheets, letting in only 29 goals. With a coefficient of 0.57 — 18 goals in 33 La Liga games — Thibaut Courtois is leading the Zamora race, leaving Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak in the dust.

If Courtois can extend his heroics to the next couple of games, he will become the first Real Madrid goalkeeper to win the Zamora Trophy for over a decade. Los Blancos’ legendary captain, Iker Casillas, was the last to claim the trophy in the 2007-08 campaign.  

Thibaut Courtois didn’t do himself any favours last season, making one mistake after the other. However, he also didn’t deserve the criticism and boos, all without getting the chance to settle in.

He has taken his time, paid his dues, and is now justifying Perez’s decision to leap for the best. 

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The Belgium international isn’t required to make many saves in a match. The defence, led by Sergio Ramos, has taken care of that. But whenever he is called upon, he almost always matches up to the task, imparting a sense of tranquillity.

It hasn’t been easy, and it certainly has not been pretty, but Thibaut Courtois has finally achieved a couple of things that every Real Madrid player strives to — the complete confidence of the club and unwavering support of the Bernabeu faithful. 

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