The Champions League semi-final draws are now complete, and Bayern Munich will face Real Madrid in one leg, with the other matching Chelsea with Atletico Madrid. While it’s not certain that the four best teams in Europe have qualified for the Final Four, there can be little argument that this quartet are certainly the most deserving.
The most visible storyline emerging from the draw concerns the fate of Atletico Madrid’s goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, the Belgian prodigy playing for Atleti temporarily – or not – while waiting to assume Petr Cech’s Chelsea mantle. The loan agreement between the two clubs did not explicitly state that the player would be allowed to play against his parent club, meaning his appearance against the Blues would incur a €3 million “penalty fee” per match, an amount far in excess of what Los Rojiblancos’ balance sheet could justify.
It is still unclear as to whether the youngster will be able to play in the quarter-finals, but a ruling today from UEFA seems to strikes positive chords for both Atletico and Courtois. Despite the inevitable (and potentially legally justifiable) clamour that will emerge from West London in response, this is the best solution for the competition.
Courtois has become such a factor for his proxy team that robbing Atleti of his presence would lessen the competition’s status as the world’s most elite football league. Courtois has featured so heavily in his three years at Vicente Calderon that employing his understudy would greatly de-harmonise defensive understanding – a key factor in coach Diego Simeone’s tactics – and rob the side of some morale simply due to their not having one of the world’s top handful of goalkeepers available. Atleti would certainly still be capable of winning the tie, but it would be far more difficult.
Were Chelsea to win without facing Courtois, it would be a hollow victory, a defeat of a team minus one of its key components. Any legal challenge made by the Blues would be an attempt at slanting the balance of the tie in their favour – which they have every right to do – but would nonetheless seem unsporting. But no matter what the context, a larger organization using legal intricacies to minimize their smaller opponents’ chance of victory just doesn’t smell good.
Chelsea have more money than, well, just about everybody. Atletico Madrid employ a goalkeeper on loan from a more prosperous club because he was the most cost-effective option they could find. The club couldn’t afford to replace Manchester-bound David De Gea with a goalkeeper of similar quality permanently, and thus were forced to rely on the loan market.
|Mendeleev Tank, courtesy wikipedia|
The situation has worked wonderfully well for all three parties: Atletico obtained a potentially world-class keeper, Courtois got ample game time and developed into one of the world’s best, while Chelsea allowed another club to turn an asset into one far more valuable while also earning back a significant chunk of his transfer fee. To further encumber Atletico by legally challenging UEFA’s ruling is their right – but would also turn Abramovich’s behemoth further into a faceless corporate victory tank.
Having the superior financial resources to purchase Courtois in the first place is one thing – bully for Chelsea FC. To then further use that stash to inconvenience opponents who just don’t have the same fiscal means begins to look a little antisocial.