Thibaut Courtois won four major trophies in as many seasons as Chelsea’s first-choice goalkeeper but was never recognised as the best goalkeeper in the Premier League.
Why? Because of one man: David de Gea.
Courtois is now in the Spanish capital, representing one of the biggest clubs in the world in Real Madrid, but is struggling to establish himself as the best goalkeeper in La Liga.
Why? Because of one man: David de Gea.
Although the Manchester United goalkeeper is almost 1000 miles from the Belgian, his shadow looms large over the goalposts at the Santiago Bernabeu, where he almost ended up just less than four years ago.
Ever since his move to Madrid collapsed, in a deal that would have seen Keylor Navas go the other way, Los Blancos have struggled to satisfy their goalkeeping demands.
Despite Navas helping to deliver three Champions League titles in four seasons, Real have constantly tried to replace the Costa Rican, who joined from Levante after an impressive 2014 World Cup.
It is harsh on a player who has also won La Liga, the Supercopa de Espana, two UEFA Super Cups and four FIFA Club World Cups with the club.
His frustrations are beginning to show too, with him publicly lamenting his situation earlier this season by pointing out: “I went from winning three Champions League titles to not playing.”
But the key in all of this is that Navas has continued to stick around and fight for his place – because he knows he is good enough to compete with Courtois.
“The day when I realise that I cannot be the first-choice goalkeeper will be the day I leave,” he said last month.
It’s telling that this is his attitude when competing with Courtois, given he was going to depart when De Gea was supposed to arrive. It says much about how Navas views the two.
De Gea has won Man United’s Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year four times, while he has been named in the PFA Team of the Year for four seasons running, despite United finishing fourth, fifth, sixth and second, respectively.
And, more widely, he is regarded as one of the best – if not the best – goalkeeper in the world.
Courtois’ reputation, meanwhile, pales in comparison. He is certainly seen as one of the ‘better’ goalkeepers in the game, but not among the ‘best’.
The 26-year-old’s technical ability could be the reason for this, with Courtois himself admitting: “Maybe I’m not the best [with my feet].”
He continued: “But I’m not bad either. Sometimes, I give a bad pass. But I know that more goalkeepers, who they say are phenomenal with their feet, commit more errors than me.”
He may have a point.
While Courtois has yet to commit an error leading to an opposition shot this season, the likes of Alisson (5), Marc-Andre ter Stegen (4), Manuel Neuer (3), Ederson (3), Kepa Arrizabalaga (3) and even De Gea (1) have.
“There are times when I feel that I am not appreciated enough,” Courtois told HLN Sport. “Today, it is far too easy to point to keepers when one loses.
“I’ve conceded quite a few goals with Real Madrid, but whoever follows me well knows that I’m not playing a bad season. I’m not trying to get myself into it.”
But while Courtois can argue that he makes up for his distribution in error-free, save-laden performances, there is – as always – an argument against this.
While the stats don’t show errors, the Belgian’s recent performances have been below-par, with just one clean sheet in his last eight outings.
He has a significantly lower save percentage than the aforementioned goalkeepers – below everyone except Neuer and Arrizabalaga – and could have, and probably should have, cost Real Madrid heavily in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie with Ajax.
However, VAR controversially came to his rescue when Nicolas Tagliafico capitalised on the goalkeeper’s dropping of a cross to score.
The level of criticism aimed at Courtois is unfair but the reality is that he is not the upgrade on Navas that Real Madrid wanted.
Los Blancos are fortunate to have two top quality goalkeepers at their disposal, both with the titles and individual accolades to prove it.
But until they can get De Gea to the Bernabeu, they will not be satisfied.