Belg Thibaut Courtois

It’ll Be Worth his Wait in Goal

Belg Thibaut CourtoisThey say scoring a goal is the hardest thing to do in top level football.  That’s why it is apparently ok to pay those more adept at hitting the back of the onion bag upwards of €250,000 a week.  A WEEK.

It is all total nonsense of course.  Back in 2012, Messi scored 91 times in a single calendar year for example.  To be fair, it was a leap year but, even allowing for the extra day, a goal every 96 hours isn’t bad considering he was probably asleep for half of it and joyfully throwing spontaneous BBQs in his best Adidas T-shirts for much of the rest of the time.

If frightening statistics like those don’t convince you, then consider this: Nicklas Bendtner has scored 24 times in the English Premier League.  I have seen drunk daddy long legs caught in a draft with more coordination and control over their limbs than Bendtner.

So no, bulging the net is not the most difficult thing to do in football.  The biggest challenge is actually the complete opposite: keeping a clean sheet.  Tonight in the Estádio da Luz in Lisboa, Atlético de Madrid will have the best in the business, Thibaut Courtois, aiming to do just that for the 30th time this season in all competitions.

They also say goals win games.  True I suppose, but clean sheets win leagues.  The Belgian number one, and Atleti number 13, only turned 22 this month, but he has just won the Zamora award for being the Spanish league’s most miserly goalkeeper for the second year running.  In 37 games this season, he kept his sheet clean on 20 occasions and allowed the ball to cross his goal line a mere 24 times. #Tight.

His importance to Atleti’s title challenge was clear for all to see in the one league game he missed.  His hapless replacement, Dani Aranzubia, allowed a cross into his top corner and received a red card (albeit extremely harsh) while giving away a penalty in a 2-0 defeat to lowly Almería.  The following day Marca ran with the headline, “Ádiós liderato, hola dudas”.  Luckily for Cholo Simeone’s men, Courtois was soon back to dispel any creeping doubts and say hello once again to the leadership of the league.

The build-up to tonight’s Champions League final has been dominated by striker Diego Costa’s Serbian horse placenta treatment and the need to have the Brasispañola leading the attack for Atleti to have any chance of winning.  He is important of course, but a goal can come from anyone on the team.  Indeed, the most important goals in Atleti’s recent history, in last year’s Copa del Rey final and this season’s title decider in the Camp Nou, were scored by central defenders Miranda and Godin.  Only Thibaut can keep a clean sheet.

Goalkeepers will never be the most glamorous members of a football team.  They’ll throw in the odd Hollywood style tip round the post for the cameras, but in reality their job requires a lot of hanging around doing very little – waiting and waiting for something that, if all goes to plan, will never happen.

They don’t even get to celebrate with their mates when the guy substantially richer than them scuffs one in from 5 yards and soaks up the adulation like a returning war hero.  They love a penalty shoot-out but even then the would-be goal scorer who misses gets more attention than the victorious goal stopper.

But this could be Courtois’ moment.  A chance to strike a blow for goalkeepers everywhere.  His performances have already spawned global tributes in the form of Thibauting, a take on NFL fans’ Tebowing.  One more clean sheet in Portugal this evening and perhaps he’ll be tomorrow’s headline and a Colchonero legend for all of eternity.

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