Courtois' Madrid love affair complicates Chelsea situation
Thibaut Courtois professes his love for Madrid, queers the pitch for a struggling Chelsea
Successive defeats at the hands of Bournemouth and Watford have ensured that Chelsea manager Antonio Conte is staring down the proverbial barrel. It isn't just the results (0-3 against Bournemouth at home, 1-4 against Watford away), it is the manner of these shocking defeats that have left the Chelsea faithful gutted.
Some of the experts already feel that the Italian manager's time is coming to an end at Stamford Bridge. How quickly things change at the top echelons of global football.
It seems a long time ago when Conte's wards set a new record of victories (30 wins in 38 matches) on their way to glory in the Premier League and the former coach of the Italian national team himself set a record by winning the manager of the month award three times in a row.
This was only last season, however. Clearly, the flow of time is relative to memory in the dog-eats-dog universe of the Premier League. In the interim, players like Nemanja Matic and Michy Batshuayi (in the January transfer window) have left the defending Premier League champions while new recruits such as Tiemoue Bakayoko have only added to the pall of gloom that surrounds the defending champions. Bakayoko, in particular, has had a nightmarish first season in England.
It appears that Chelsea's troubles could be compounded by the departure of another pivotal player in the close season. The Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has revealed in a recent interview that his heart is still in Madrid and that he believes that his return to the Spanish capital is inexorable at some point of time.
Even more interestingly, Courtois goes on to say that his family never made the move to England with him, indicating their lack of interest in a long-term future in London, which Courtois, true to stereotype, found cold and unwelcoming.
The Belgian played a crucial role in Chelsea's league victory last season, as their dogged defensive style helped them clinch the title by a seven-point margin.
However, Courtois maintains that he spent three wonderful years at Atletico Madrid and his words give the feeling that his spell at the Rojiblancos was a labor of love while his stint at Chelsea has been of a more professional nature. Statistically, Atletico are also ahead, Courtois played a total of 154 times for them, a mark he is yet to cross at Chelsea, though he might yet enter talks to extend his stay in London beyond 2019 when his current contract runs out.
The tall shot-stopper appears to be a family man and has two young children back in Madrid. With the troubled Real Madrid likely to go fishing for a new goalkeeper at the end of the season, Courtois could be more strongly linked to a move back to his favourite city.
His affinity for the city and his preference for it appears to be more of a cultural and personal phenomenon. Clearly, he found more friendship and warmth (literally) back in his Atletico days and the London club (and teammates) have failed to make him feel at home the way Diego Simeone and his close-knit group at Atletico did.
Courtois' revelation may just add to Conte and Chelsea's problems as the team, already low on morale, find themselves trailing the runaway league leaders Manchester City by 19 points.