Real Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois is undervalued but key to club’s success
The FC crew rank Courtois’ recent performances and explain why it’s time for Real Madrid to start paying him accordingly.
Real Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois is undervalued but key to club’s success. The Belgian goalkeeper has a lot of experience and can be relied on in the big moments.
3:45 a.m. Eastern Time
Sid Lowe is a writer from Spain.
Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti smiled as he remarked, “You can say we have a goalie.” Yes, you can.
It might have been Rotterdam, Liverpool, Rome, or somewhere else after a game versus Sevilla. Thibaut Courtois makes at least one incredible save every week, in every game, good, poor, or indifferent. They don’t always need assistance; on other occasions, they do. In any case, it’s always there.
Real Madrid has won seven consecutive games. They would not have succeeded without him. All of them have seen a Courtois save, which now seems to be a legal necessity, with no match complete without one.
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Simply ask… Courtois himself. The goalie isn’t hesitant about admitting it, and he’s not shy about mentioning his miracles in postgame interviews, tucking them in someplace. But, on the other hand, he’s that uncommon player who really has something to say and likes to say it rather than simply muttering a few platitudes to get out of there, which is something for which we should be thankful. A guy ready to chat postgame — practically every postgame, in fact, while others refuse — and do so plainly and frankly on every issue, in order to correctly analyze the game.
Why shouldn’t his saves be included? After all, without them, the analysis of almost every Real Madrid game would be incomplete. Furthermore, the manner in which he does it is matter-of-fact, as he gleefully breaks down which stops were simpler, which were tougher, and how his height plays a role. Courtois, for example, detailed the difference between the saves he made following a 1-0 victory against Athletic Club on Wednesday night, using Raul Garca and Oihan Sancet as examples: “Raul Garca is someone I’m familiar with. He shoots it low and fast from close range, which is difficult. Training, quality, reflexes, talent, plus a little luck go into it. The second is more about becoming large and obstructing the area under your feet.”
Not least because it is true, because he is correct, and why not? If he made a mistake, everyone would be on him right away. Would that be the case? They had been. When he wasn’t making blunders, he wasn’t doing miracles either, at least not yet: They waded into him when he had a rough start in Madrid, not because he was sinking, but because he wasn’t rescuing them.
That’s not the case, though. He is right now. It’s also reflected in the statistics: He has earned more money than anybody else in Spain. Only two guys have faced enough shots to build up such figures in Europe, which is unusual at a major club when players are less likely to face enough shots to pile up such numbers. The raw numbers are listed first, followed by the percentages. Courtois saves 86.36 percent of shots on goal in the Champions League. He saves more than three-quarters of them in LaLiga. Nobody does it better than you. If you don’t want to accept his word for it, Unai Simon’s is a good alternative.
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“I’ve been in football for a long time and I’ve never seen anything like that,” Athletic boss Marcelino stated at the conclusion. His squad had a chance to score six goals. Some of it was poor finishing, some of it was fantastic defense (a spectacular block by Lucas Vazquez in particular), and some of it was Courtois’ usual everyday brilliance. Rafa Alkorta, Athletic’s sports director, stated, “He was incredible. He was the one who kept the game going.” “There isn’t enough admiration of Courtois,” Simon said of Athletic’s own goalkeeper.
That’s not to say there aren’t any — there are, and the front page of the AS this morning shouts “Golden Gloves,” for example — but perhaps there’s something about goalkeepers that causes them to be overlooked, something about them, it might be prudent to admit, that makes them more likely to defend each other.
“Courtois’ labor is undervalued, and he is a cornerstone of the squad,” Simon remarked. “Madrid has a lot of talents, such as Benzema, Modric, and Kroos, but they wouldn’t have won without him.”
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Courtois confessed that there was a “gap” between him and then-manager Zinedine Zidane when he first arrived in Madrid. Isn’t it amazing how clear he is when he speaks? “[Captain] Sergio Ramos was Keylor Navas’ buddy, therefore it was difficult for him at initially,” he stated. He’s doing it again. True, his save rate was low, and there may have been some uneasiness, maybe a smidgeon of insecurity. He had an anxiety attack, the media surmised, and he spoke out because the matter was too important, too frivolously tossed out there for him to ignore.
The stress was palpable, as it usually is. Courtois would subsequently argue that young players should avoid social media because it “only makes you feel awful” and because “your brain goes crazy if you believe everything in the press.” That’s not to say he’s immune to what’s said around him; there are plenty of examples, and he’s stated that his press officer sift through it and feeds him part of what’s published so he can see “which way the wind blows.” (Greetings, Thibaut!) But, if it was difficult to manage — and it is difficult for people on the outside to grasp exactly how difficult it is — he managed.
On Wednesday, when asked whether Courtois was the finest goalie he’d ever worked with, Ancelotti responded in typical Ancelotti fashion. “Iker Casillas, Diego Lopez, Gianluigi Buffon, Petr Cech, Manuel Neuer… but for us here, he is the greatest at the moment,” he remarked.
Courtois (who was ranked No. 4 in the ESPN FC 100 for 2021) was not on the shortlist for The Best and was not included in the Ballon d’Or discussion. Even if Courtois put it down to the fact that he had said that the Nations League’s third-fourth place playoff was pointless, only there because it is “extra money for UEFA,” the latter prizes are largely about what they won (or didn’t) last season — the visibility — even if he put it down to the fact that he had said that the third-fourth place playoff was pointless, only there because it is “extra money for UEFA.” “I know what I’m doing for the club,” he remarked, nevertheless.
Courtois isn’t renowned for being a noisy goalkeeper, but his actions show that he is aggressive and powerful. Getty Images/DAX Images/NurPhoto
As a result, I’m going to make saves a standard. It’s not only the saves either. From just behind his goal, there’s more to notice about him than simply the minor routines: studs hammered against the posts, a replacement ball delivered to him by a member of staff standing nearby with a bag full of them. (It’s something to hold, bounce about with, and get a sense of.) The feeling of being in command, the sobriety, the quiet, and the absence of commotion. Courtois isn’t a very loud goalie, but he commands respect and uses words when necessary. His area’s domination is also notable. Every time a ball flies in the air, it’s his ball.
Then there’s the performance. It’s remarkable how frequently teammates look to him when the ball is sent his way. Pinged his way every now and again. It was tough, bouncy, and uncomfortable… and it was always dealt with.
The coach determines how much you play. Some teams just hoof it, and Courtois has been a part of such squads as well. Courtois recalls being in the center of passing exercises when at Chelsea under then-manager Guus Hiddink — and he was fairly good at it. At the Bernabeu, that aspect of his game has returned, and is even encouraged. No, it’s not out of the ordinary, but the faith in him is revealing. Which it would be, given how he never disappoints them and saves them on a regular basis.
For another club, it may be cause for concern — no team wants their goalie to be exceptional — but Ancelotti was unconcerned. That isn’t the case. Ancelotti added, “We have him and we enjoy him.” Some of them, at least, do. “What he accomplishes every day in training, he does in games,” the coach remarked. “I tell him, ‘You need to instill more confidence in our forwards since you constantly stop every shot they take.’”
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