It’s difficult to find goalkeeping resumes on par with Thibaut Courtois, period. But toss in the fact that he’s done what he’s done by the age of 23, and you have the potential for cross-era greatness.
So what makes this guy tick? Competition and improvement for one thing, and our own Joe Prince-Wright spoke with the Belgian backstop and his longtime mentor at Genk to talk about Courtois’ career.
The mentor in question, Genk goalkeeping guru Guy Martens, says the club was trying to make youth versions of a Dutch goalkeeping great, which is convenient because that Manchester United model was also one of Courtois’ heroes.
How did a young goalkeeper growing up in Belgium learn so much, so soon? Courtois watched and learned from the greats of the previous generation. Edwin van der Sar and Iker Casillas were his favorites, particularly the latter, from whom he drew inspiration after seeing Casillas start and star for Spanish giants Real Madrid at a young age.
“For him to be playing in goal at the age of 18, it was an inspiration that there was a goalkeeper around at such a young age and he was already important at a big team,” said Courtois. “As well, Edwin van der Sar. When he was playing at Manchester United he was a role model because I think I have quite a similar style to him. Obviously, you would try to see with your eyes and try to learn from things he did in the game and analyze how he reacted to certain situations. For me, you look at every goalkeeper and you try to learn what they do.”
The van der Sar comparison is a particularly interesting one, as Courtois’ former coach Martens reveals their plan was to always produce miniature van der Sars. Genk’s impressive youth academy — which has also produced Christian Benteke, Kevin De Bruyne, Steven Defour, Divock Origi and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, among others — churned out a team full of youngsters that won the league in 2011 with a 19-year-old Courtois in goal.
The long-form piece is a must-read, as the “relaxed” Courtois shares a batch of exclusive quotes with JPW. Check it out here.