Softly spoken and courteous, mannerisms somehow at odds with his imposing 6’5 frame, any shyness Thibaut Courtois displays in interview disappears out on the pitch. Combining steely nerves, safe hands and remarkable reflexes, the 21-year-old is currently rated one of the finest custodians around and is thriving at the very top of the European game.
On loan from Chelsea at Atletico Madrid for the past three seasons, the Belgian shotstopper is one of the rocks on which coach Diego Simeone’s historic Rojiblanco success story has been built. And having helped Atleti to the top of La Liga and reach the UEFA Champions League semis for the first time in 40 years, Courtois has also played his part in Belgium’s imminent return to the FIFA World Cup™ stage after a 12-year absence.
With his involvement in Los Colchoneros’ last-four tussle versus Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea confirmed, the keeper spoke to FIFA.com about this “special” tie, Atletico’s league championship challenge and Les Diables Rouges’ chances at Brazil 2014.
FIFA.com: In 2012, when you were on the verge of winning your first trophy with Atletico, you told us that every final is unique and might be your last. Since then you’ve lifted the UEFA Europa League, UEFA Super Cup and the Copa del Rey, while Atleti lead La Liga with four games remaining and are in the Champions League semi-finals. Did you imagine all of this?
Thibaut Courtois: I didn’t expect it, no. I remember playing my first game in the Belgian league just before turning 17 and dreaming of having a good career over there, but I didn’t imagine playing for a big club or winning trophies like these. And now we’re not far away from the most important one of them all, the Champions League. We’ve got the Liga title close too which, because of Barcelona and [Real] Madrid, you never think you’ll get the chance to win. They’ve got better individuals but we’re a very good team and that’s important, because you don’t need to rely on any one player to win the championship. It’s going to be hard to repeat all this though. We’re having a huge season and, now we’ve got this far, we’ve got to try and take advantage. It’ll be tough to take if it ends without us winning anything, but it won’t be for lack of trying.
How did you feel when you were drawn against Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals, and learning that you’d be able to play despite being on loan from the Blues?
Very relieved. For me, the fact that we’ve drawn Chelsea, like we did in the European Super Cup [in 2012, when Atletico won 4-1], is special, because even though I’m at Atleti, Chelsea are my club too. It’s better not to think about it too much though and play like I always do, because if I start thinking, ‘Oh, I’d better be careful’, then I’ll end up playing poorly. I want to win trophies here and I’ll be an Atletisupporter for these two games, but at all other times I’m a Chelsea fan too. I hope they win the Premier League, just not these two [Champions League] matches. I really hope we can reach the final as we’re so close. They’re the favourites, but [beaten quarter-final opponents] Barça were too.