Football Features

How Thibaut Courtois became a pantomime villain among Chelsea & Atletico fans

By Harry Edwards

Published: 12:14, 29 March 2019 | Updated: 15:39, 2 April 2019

Leaving a club is often an easy way to get into supporters’ bad books.

In some cases, fans are understanding. But this has certainly not been the case for Thibaut Courtois, who has assumed the role of public enemy No.1 among the fanbases of both his former clubs, Chelsea and Atletico Madrid, following his move to Real Madrid.

And his remarks to the press do him no favours.

The Belgian initially joined Chelsea from Genk as a 19-year-old in 2011 but was immediately sent on loan to Atletico Madrid for three years.

During his time with the Rojiblancos, Courtois played his way into the hearts of the Atletico fans, as well as a regular starting spot in the team that won La Liga in 2013/14 and reached a Champions League final.

Even when he returned to his parent club at the time, Chelsea, in 2014, Courtois retained close ties with the Madrid club. They even gave him his own plaque outside the Wanda Metropolitano for having represented the Rojiblancos 100 times.

“If you see Valdebebas, you see how great Madrid are, it is the best I have ever seen. Atleti do not have that.”

But the Atletico fans’ affection for Courtois dissipated when he left Chelsea last summer to join their bitter, local rivals, Real Madrid. Atletico fans responded by defacing his plaque and through toy rats in his direction when he visited the Wanda Metropolitano recently.

The affront was returned. Real won the game 3-1, a scoreline Courtois reminded the Atleti crowd of with a hand gesture as he left the pitch.

And more recently, the Belgian has praised Real Madrid fans for having higher standards than those who used to chant his name at Atletico.

“There is more pressure at [Real] Madrid, the fans are more demanding, and I like that,” he said.

“You cannot compare one stadium with another, the Bernabeu with the [Vicente] Calderon.

“If you see Valdebebas (Real Madrid’s training complex), you see how great Madrid are, it is the best I have ever seen. Atleti do not have that.”

Courtois has not severed all ties with Atletico, however, and still meets up with former team-mates Filipe Luis and Diego Costa, with whom he also played at Chelsea.

He added: “I love sport, and I read a lot of sports journalism as well as things about Atleti.

“I also meet with Filipe and Diego Costa and we talk about things.

“I carry great memories from Atletico and I am always delighted to see them.”

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Unlike Atletico fans, a large majority of the Chelsea fanbase lost their love for Courtois before he had signed for Real due to the manner in which he left the club.

Having been away with Belgium at the World Cup, Courtois failed to report back to pre-season with Chelsea on time – something many Blues fans interpreted as the Belgian’s attempt to force a move to Real Madrid.

Courtois was never shy in professing his desire to return to Madrid, where his children live with their mother, and Chelsea fans were not happy with his eagerness to publicly express this desire.

Courtois eventually achieved his dream of joining Real Madrid, of course, a place he declared the “best club in the world” at his unveiling.

But since moving to Spain, he has also looked to play agent for Chelsea forward Eden Hazard, constantly speaking of his desire for his compatriot to join in at Real Madrid.

Shortly after moving, Courtois said of Hazard – whose own future was in doubt: “He’s a wonderful player. I’d love to play alongside him again and we’ll have to see what happens in the future.

“If he ends up here one day that would be brilliant.”

And this is something he has reiterated recently, once again calling for Hazard to join him at Real Madrid.

Courtois told Spanish radio station Onda Cero: “I don’t know if he is going to sign for Real Madrid, nor do I know if the club want him.

“For me, he is a great player, but I don’t decide those things.

“Each one decides what he does with his life. For me, he is one of the best in the world and as a friend, I would like him to be here.”

Courtois has not had the best debut season at Real Madrid, recently losing his place in the team to Keylor Navas following the return of Zinedine Zidane.  This is something which has delighted Chelsea fans.

This glee among fans and the added scrutiny among the press – who Courtois feels “want to kill” him – is the price he pays for his forthrightness in terms of his career plans.

But for a place at “the best club in the world”, Courtois’ role of villain is a cost most players would happily incur.