December 7, 2022

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Chelsea v Real Madrid: Thibaut Courtois makes his awkward return to Chelsea years after going AWOL

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After securing a 1-1 draw in Chelsea‘s Champions League semi-final first leg with Real Madrid, Blues boss Thomas Tuchel endeared himself to the club’s fans shortly after the final whistle.

While the German tactician has completely turned the club’s fortunes around since taking over from Frank Lampard and are now just 90 minutes away from securing a spot in the Istanbul final, the reason for why he earned brownie points with the club’s fanbase had nothing to do with results on the pitch this time.

In fact, at the end of their game in Madrid, Tuchel inadvertently blanked the outstretched hand of loathed former Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois as he went to congratulate his own players instead.

Thibaut Courtois makes his awkward return to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening

Thibaut Courtois makes his awkward return to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening

Thibaut Courtois makes his awkward return to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening

Courtois pulled off a series of fine saves to deny Chelsea in Real's 1-1 first leg draw last week

Courtois pulled off a series of fine saves to deny Chelsea in Real's 1-1 first leg draw last week

Courtois pulled off a series of fine saves to deny Chelsea in Real’s 1-1 first leg draw last week

In what is probably a rather innocuous event for both Courtois and Tuchel, the clip made the rounds on social media and added more spice to a continuing rivalry between Courtois and the Chelsea supporters.

And for good reason – if you ask the Chelsea contingent.

Less than three years ago, Courtois became public enemy number one at Stamford Bridge after forcing through a £35million move to the Bernabeu, citing that he wanted to leave the club in order to be closer to his family.

While many players can be forgiven for wanting to leave due to family reasons, the manner in which Courtois went about doing so left a sour taste in the mouths of Chelsea fans after he failed to report to training in an attempt to get what he wanted.

Courtois attempted to shake Thomas Tuchel's hand at the end of the game on Tuesday

Courtois attempted to shake Thomas Tuchel's hand at the end of the game on Tuesday

Courtois attempted to shake Thomas Tuchel’s hand at the end of the game on Tuesday

Tuchel appeared to blank the ex-Chelsea keeper, instead making a bee-line for his own men

Tuchel appeared to blank the ex-Chelsea keeper, instead making a bee-line for his own men

Tuchel appeared to blank the ex-Chelsea keeper, instead making a bee-line for his own men

And it wasn’t the first time he’s done this either. 

Back in July 2011, the Belgian shot-stopper refused to play in a pre-season game for Genk in order to secure a £7m switch to Chelsea. With hindsight, everyone should have seen his Chelsea split coming.

But going back to his Chelsea arrival, his time at the club was marred by disloyalty again after he was sent out on loan to Atletico Madrid.

While there was nothing wrong with earning first-team minutes elsewhere, then Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho was left infuriated when Courtois decided to play against his parent club – a Champions League semi-final no less.

Courtois put in a solid performance to help Atletico win 3-1 over two legs to book Diego Simeone’s side in the final against rivals Real.  

When asked about the Belgian’s performance after the game, Mourinho only referred to Courtois as ‘the Atletico goalkeeper’, creating friction before even becoming a first-team player at the Bridge.

Having got off on the wrong foot, Courtois eventually returned to Chelsea in the summer of 2014 and made the No 1 jersey his own after Petr Cech completed a move to Arsenal a year later.

Courtois angered then Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho in 2014 by deciding to play for Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semi-final against his parent club

Courtois angered then Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho in 2014 by deciding to play for Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semi-final against his parent club

Courtois angered then Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho in 2014 by deciding to play for Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semi-final against his parent club

Belgium international helped the Spanish side dump Chelsea out of Europe to reach the final

Belgium international helped the Spanish side dump Chelsea out of Europe to reach the final

Belgium international helped the Spanish side dump Chelsea out of Europe to reach the final

He was awarded a five-year deal a few months after finishing his loan spell at Atletico which would take him through to 2019.

Then, during his next five seasons in west London, Courtois would go on to win four trophies – an FA Cup, League Cup and two Premier League winners’ medals.

Despite his time at Chelsea being recognised as a success, there was always question marks over his commitment to the club.

Courtois’ main justification for leaving and returning to Spain was to be closer to his children, after his split from girlfriend Marta Dominguez in 2017 saw her return to the Spanish capital with his two children.  

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A fractious relationship at Chelsea was soon to reach melting point as Courtois entered the final year of his deal, leaving Real to make a late bid to sign him once again – having tried their luck in 2015.

Courtois played for Chelsea for seven years but then forced through a move to Real Madrid

Courtois played for Chelsea for seven years but then forced through a move to Real Madrid

Courtois played for Chelsea for seven years but then forced through a move to Real Madrid

With Kepa Arrizabalaga and Alisson both on Real’s radar, Courtois became anxious that a move to Real would either never materialise or would have to wait another year as the clock ticked down to the 2018 summer transfer window’s deadline day.

But with Alisson being snapped up by Liverpool and Kepa staying put at Athletic Bilbao for the time being, Real only had a few days to make an official bid for Courtois while Chelsea remained reluctant to sell one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

As a result, Courtois went AWOL and refused to turn up for Chelsea’s pre-season training – seven years on from doing the same at Genk.

Real submitted a £35m bid for Courtois – which was accepted by Chelsea – and Courtois got his dream move, leaving Blues fans livid at the Belgium international.

Courtois rubbed salt into the wounds at his Real Madrid unveiling, where he revealed that he was at ‘the best club in the world’.

His statement addressing the Chelsea faithful over his move away from the club was promptly taken down by the west London club due to fan backlash.

Courtois’ agent Christophe Henrotay spoke to BBC a few days after to try and diffuse the situation. ‘It’s (going AWOL) probably something that ideally we wouldn’t have wanted.

He went AWOL and refused to turn up to pre-season training to force through a move to Real

He went AWOL and refused to turn up to pre-season training to force through a move to Real

He went AWOL and refused to turn up to pre-season training to force through a move to Real

‘It’s true that some players push and it’s true that at certain moments Thibaut was getting a bit stressed by the situation, because Madrid made an offer and he had an opportunity to go. He was a bit stressed that this could not happen.

‘There has been a misunderstanding that he wanted to get a move for the wrong reasons, but he was pushing to go out of Chelsea because of his children. If the family were in London it would have been totally different. He would have stayed, there is no reason to leave a club like Chelsea, he could have won trophies.

‘Unfortunately his kids are living with the mother in Madrid. Chelsea understood the situation and really helped to get the deal. They did a really quick and easy deal together, understanding the humanity of the situation. 

‘It is not doing something against their fans, it is about getting the best of a situation that is not ideal.’

While players have come and gone from Chelsea, none have arguably been as hated as Courtois in recent memory.

A quick search on Twitter of ‘Courtois’ followed by the word ‘snake’ will just show how much animosity there is on the Chelsea fans’ side towards their former No 1. 

Blues fans haven't forgiven Courtois and often label him as a 'snake' whenever he is mentioned

Blues fans haven't forgiven Courtois and often label him as a 'snake' whenever he is mentioned

Blues fans haven’t forgiven Courtois and often label him as a ‘snake’ whenever he is mentioned

And he angered them further last month when he discovered he would be returning to his former stomping ground on May 5 and that he would’ve preferred to have had fans inside the ground for the second leg. 

Courtois told beIN Sports: ‘It will be very nice to see a lot of familiar faces and I wish there was public at Stamford Bridge because there was a lot of happy moments I had there.

‘Even though maybe my departure wasn’t in the best way, or it was put that way, that it wasn’t the best way, I only have good memories.

‘Two Premier Leagues, a lot of other trophies – I’m really happy to play them, but only one can be in the final and I hope it’s Real Madrid.’

Now, ahead of his somewhat awkward return to SW6, he may be counting his lucky stars that there will be no furious Chelsea fans in attendance – especially if he manages to dump the Blues out at the semi-final stage again seven years after doing it for the red and white side of Madrid. 

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