Today, UEFA released a statement saying in its eyes, there should be no debate on whether Thibaut Courtois can play for Atletico Madrid against Chelsea in the Champions League semifinals.
That’s all well and good, and the “spirit of the competition” is a nice thought, but one problem remains.
When you boil it down, Thibaut Courtois is a Chelsea player.
Sure he’s played for Atletico Madrid for the last three years, but that doesn’t erase the fact that he remains owned by Chelsea, and there’s a serious possibility in the future that we see him in a Blue uniform for a very, very long time.
With so much money involved in the Champions League these days, it would be a terrible precedent for UEFA to allow the 21-year-old to potentially have a major hand in ending Chelsea’s run in Europe’s top competition.
What if the game goes to penalties and Courtois saves one or two to send Atletico through? There are plenty of ways for him to be at the forefront of the storyline.
Chelsea chief executive Ron Gourlay insists that Courtois “can play” against his parent club, but his quotes don’t do much to suggest the Blues are going to give Atletico a release from the pay clause.
The FA rule that prevents on-loan players from playing against their parent clubs is a sound one, and it’s silly for UEFA not to consider instituting a similar law. The possibility should never exist for a player to have a hand in defeating the club that actually owns them.
Competition-wise, sure, it would be a massive blow for Atletico to lose the ability to field one of the world’s best goalkeepers – but this was a risk they assumed when taking him on loan. Without ponying up the money for a purchase, they know the risks.
On the surface it appears to be a case of the “big guy bullying the little guy” but Chelsea are right to want to prevent their own player from hurting them in a competition, or even knocking them out.
Remember – Atletico agreed to the contract clause in the first place. For Chelsea to institute a fee is simply taking advantage of the loophole in UEFA’s rules, and the governing body is ultimately at fault for even allowing this situation to be up for debate.
For Courtois to play against Chelsea would be, in my opinion, bad for everyone involved and would set a horrible precedent. It’s highly possible that the Belgian youngster may play, and he could have little to no effect on the match and things would blow over. But if down the road this were to happen again and the rule didn’t change, ultimately bad things could come of it.
It would be better in the short term for fans to be able to watch both teams at full strength, but over the long term and even in this competition, the possibility for something negative to come from this scenario looms.