The Belgium’s comments about a return to Spain were ill-planned and drove home the point the Blues’ selling of their legendary goalkeeper to Arsenal was a mistake.
But selling the club’s legendary goalkeeper Petr Cech for the younger Thibaut Courtois is appearing by far to have been the worst.
Courtois returned from a successful three-year loan spell with Atletico Madrid to take Cech’s No.1 shirt in 2014 – resulting in Cech being sold to Arsenal – but that decision is beginning to look like a mistake as doubts emerge over Courtois’s long-term loyalty.
Even the Special One’s other high-profile sales of Belgians Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku – De Bruyne becoming the Premier League’s best with Manchester City while Chelsea attempted to re-sign Lukaku from Everton – appear dwarfed now.
Courtois’s recent comments will worry everyone involved at Chelsea as he unwisely declared his loyalty to Atletico Madrid despite only playing there under a temporary contract, having been sent to Spain on loan to get experience.
“I have a contract with Chelsea for three seasons,” Courtois told Marca. “In 2018, when I enter the final year of the contract, we will assess whether to renew or leave.
“I feel half Spanish, when I said goodbye I had a bad time. I had cold blood. I cried.”
He then revealed how Real Madrid sent him a letter after he got injured and, while angling for a move or a new contract is nothing new, Courtois’s comments come across as insensitive at a time when he was not on particularly good form.
Cech, by contrast, was always loyal to Chelsea, but he had to leave for Arsenal in a £10 million deal in 2015 to secured first-team football with Arsene Wenger’s side having benefitted hugely from his consummate professionalism.
He will be forever recognised as a legend despite signing for one of the Blues’s fiercest rivals after delivering Chelsea’s first Premier League title in 50 years (in 2004-05) and bringing both the Champions League and Europa League to west London.
On Chelsea’s greatest night, Cech proved decisive as he saved a penalty in extra time as well as two in the penalty shoot as his side became the first London club to ever win the Champions League.
Ultimately, a cocky, young ex-Genk player wrestled the goalkeeping gloves off his more senior rival as Cech’s status as the world’s best goalkeeper struggled to recover after a series of injuries including, most famously, the knock to his head against Reading in 2006.
Since his move to Arsenal, Cech has steadily regained some of his powers and while he may fall short of being the world’s top goalkeeper, he still proves to be reliable while bringing both a calming and a leadership presence to his new club.
Courtois, on the other hand, has regressed. His form this term has been poor as Chelsea conceded two goals in each of their last three games, and it was his atrocious mistake which contributed hugely to the Blues’s draw with Swansea City.
His form is no fault of Chelsea either, as they removed their goalkeeping coach from last season, Christophe Lollichon, due to a breakdown in the pair’s relationship.
Ironically, Lollichon was the mentor of Cech and Chelsea’s signed him from Rennes on their former goalkeeper’s recommendation.
But they replaced Lollichon with Gianluca Spinelli at Courtois’s behest despite Roman Abramovich’s reluctance to change coaches.
Conte will notice any signs of disloyalty in his 24-year-old goalkeeper and will be unsympathetic in delivering any justice he sees fit if it continues.
At Italy he cut Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano from his squad due to doubts over their attitudes, while at Juventus he even once tore into Gianluigi Buffon for asking about bonuses before the season was over.
So Courtois had better be warned – he won’t be able to force the Blues to sell him on the cheap as they will realise his immense value in the transfer market, but he could face being dropped if he is not careful.
Begovic is a proven Premier League goalkeeper from his time with Stoke City and Portsmouth and he would be capable of delivering the performances Conte needs if he is given the chance over a longer period.
There is no doubt Courtois is capable of more than he has shown so far this season and become the equal of Cech, but the commitment and passion required to get to the next level are now in question.
Courtois’s comments are surprising as Conte has built such a united dressing room despite only recently arriving in London, while he is now well within his rights to start thinking that one rotten apple could spoil the bunch.