Thibaut Nicolas Marc Courtois (born 11 May 1992) is a Belgian professional footballer who plays as a goalkeeper for Spanish club Real Madrid and the Belgium national team. He is considered one of the best goalkeepers in world football.
Courtois progressed through the youth system of Genk, and aged 18, he played a key role in the team's Belgian Pro League victory. In July 2011 he joined Chelsea for a reported £8 million, and was immediately loaned to Atlético Madrid. In three seasons there, he won the Europa League in 2012, the Copa del Rey in 2013 and the La Liga title in 2014. He also won the Ricardo Zamora Trophy for best goalkeeper in La Liga, for his performances in his two latter seasons. Courtois returned to Chelsea in July 2014, and in his first season he helped them win the League Cup and the Premier League title. Two years later, he won the Premier League Golden Glove as Chelsea again won the league. In 2018, Real Madrid signed Courtois for £35 million, becoming La Liga's most expensive goalkeeper, surpassing the record set by Jan Oblak. He won a second La Liga title and a third Zamora trophy in 2020.
Courtois made his senior international debut in October 2011, becoming the youngest goalkeeper to represent Belgium. He has since earned over ninety caps and appeared at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, UEFA Euro 2016, the 2018 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 2020; he was awarded the Golden Glove in 2018 as the best goalkeeper of the tournament, with Belgium finishing third.
Courtois' loan to Atlético was extended to cover the 2012–13 season. His first game of the loan extension was against parent club Chelsea in the 2012 UEFA Super Cup final in Monaco, which ended in a 4–1 victory for Atlético Madrid. Later in the season Courtois set a new Atlético Madrid record of 820 minutes without conceding a goal at the Estadio Vicente Calderon, ended by being beaten in a 1–0 loss to Real Sociedad. Atlético reached the 2013 Copa del Rey Final, and Courtois was named man of the match in a 2–1 victory against Real, the first time that Atlético had beaten their city rivals in 14 years.
For the 2013–14 season, Courtois loan to Atlético was extended by a further 12 months.
When Atlético were drawn to play Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final, it was reported that a clause in Courtois' contract required Atlético to pay Chelsea €3 million per match if they selected him against his parent club, and that Atlético could not afford such a sum. UEFA made it clear that considerations of sporting integrity made such a clause "null, void and unenforceable", and confirmed that Atlético were free to select Courtois without making any such payment.
By conceding the fewest goals in a substantial number of matches during the 2013–14 season, Courtois won the Ricardo Zamora Trophy and made an important contribution to Atletico's 2013–14 La Liga title, their first since 1996. He was nominated for the La Liga Award for the best goalkeeper in the league, alongside Willy Caballero of Málaga CF and Keylor Navas of Levante UD, which Navas eventually won. Atletico, however, lost the UEFA Champions League Final 1–4 a.e.t. against neighbours Real Madrid on 24 May in Lisbon.
In June 2014, Chelsea manager José Mourinho confirmed that Courtois would return to Chelsea for the upcoming season. He was assigned the number 13 kit number, last worn by Victor Moses. On 18 August, Mourinho announced that Courtois would start the Premier League opener against Burnley in place of Petr Čech. Although he conceded the first goal to Scott Arfield at Turf Moor, Chelsea won 3–1. Courtois kept his first Premier League clean sheet in his second game, making several crucial saves in a 2–0 home win over Leicester City.
On 11 September 2014, Courtois signed a new five-year contract with Chelsea, keeping him at the club until 2019. Upon signing Courtois said: "It’s really nice to have signed this new contract for five years."
Courtois suffered a head injury in the first half of Chelsea's 2–0 home win over Arsenal on 5 October due to a collision with Alexis Sánchez; he was substituted and then taken to hospital. He was then treated for a minor cut to his ear and released from hospital that night.
He won his first trophy with Chelsea on 1 March 2015, as they defeated Tottenham Hotspur 2–0 in the League Cup Final, with Čech instead playing in that match; Chelsea also finished the season as league champions.
Courtois playing for Real Madrid in 2019
Following the 2017–18 season, Courtois mentioned he would want to live closer to his children, reigniting the rumours about a transfer to Real Madrid. After a strong performance at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, where he won the Golden Glove for best goalkeeper, Courtois expressed his interest in moving on. Chelsea stated they would not let him go unless they were able to find a replacement for him. Courtois responded by not showing up for training after the summer break, trying to force his exit from Chelsea. On 8 August 2018, Real Madrid announced that they had signed Courtois on a six-year contract. A day later, Chelsea confirmed the transfer.
He made his debut for Madrid on 1 September 2018, where he started in a 4–1 win over CD Leganés.
On 12 January 2020, Real Madrid beat Atlético Madrid in a penalty shootout to win their eleventh Supercopa de España title. In the shootout, Saul saw his spot-kick hit the post before Thomas' effort was saved by Courtois, giving Ramos the chance to secure Real's 11th Spanish Super Cup triumph. On 5 July 2020, Courtois kept his 17th clean sheet of the 2019–20 La Liga season in a 1–0 away win over Athletic Bilbao, becoming the first Real Madrid goalkeeper to do so in a single season since Francisco Buyo in 1994–95. He was the undisputed starter during the league season, as Real Madrid won the 2019–20 La Liga,becoming the first player since Jose Luis Perez-Paya in 1954 to be crowned champion with both Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid. He won the Zamora Trophy for the third time in his career, after conceding just 20 goals in 34 matches.
On 16 August 2021, he signed a new four-year contract, running until 2026.
Considered a highly promising prospect in his youth, Courtois subsequently established himself as one of the best players in the world in his position. Due to his wide range of skills, he has been described as a "complete goalkeeper", with few weaknesses. A consistent keeper, he possesses an excellent positional sense, good mentality, composure, strength of character, and an ability to communicate well with his defenders; he also excels in one on one situations, due to his ability to time his runs effectively when rushing out of goal to face opponents,and has even functioned as a sweeper-keeper on occasion. An excellent shot-stopper between the posts, he has also distinguished himself for his agility and quick reflexes, in spite of his size and imposing physique. During the 2016–17 season, he credited his goalkeeping coach with Chelsea under manager Antonio Conte, Gianluca Spinelli, for helping him to improve his overall game and goalkeeping technique, in particular his foot-work and diving, which enabled him to be more explosive and get to ground more quickly. Due to his height and reach, he excels in the air, and is also known for his command of his area, as well as his excellent technique, anticipation, handling, and confidence when coming off his line to claim crosses.Moreover, he is known for his ability to distribute the ball to his teammates with long throws.
Style of play
De Ligt is considered by pundits to be among the most highly regarded young prospects in world football, as demonstrated by his victory in the 2018 Golden Boy award, which is assigned to the most impressive young player in European football.
Having played as an attacking midfielder in his youth, De Ligt is both a physical and technically gifted right-footed centre-back, who is known for his clean tackling, anticipation, marking, height, strength, speed and accurate passing, which enables him to start attacking plays from the back; moreover, his height allows him to be a major threat from set pieces, whilst his strength means that he is unlikely to be pushed off the ball, particularly in aerial duels. His playing style is often compared to that of Barcelona defender Gerard Piqué;[ he has also been likened to Jan Vertonghen, due to his "similar forward surges, a propensity to create an extra man in midfield, and calmness on the ball," and to compatriot Ronald Koeman, courtesy of his "powerful shot and body strength."
A 2019 UEFA.com profile described De Ligt with the following words: "A natural leader, De Ligt is an elegant two-footed central defender. Dominant in the air, he is blessed with strength, fine distribution and composure, and is able to play out from the back thanks to his confidence in possession, while his intelligent positioning helps him deny pacy forwards. With his ability to read the game, he could even play in midfield. His leadership also stands him out: he was 18 when he was made Ajax skipper."That same year, Paul Wilkes of The Independent also noted that "De Ligt’s ability to play out from the back and organise his fellow teammates are valuable commodities in a time when the lack of quality defenders has been highlighted."
Former Liverpool and England defender Jamie Carragher praised De Ligt for his "physical attributes" and "leadership qualities". Furthermore, Carragher went on to say he plays "like he's 24 or 25" indicating maturity and strength. Former Netherlands centre-back Jaap Stam said De Ligt: "He's got composure on the ball, he's aggressive tactically, he sees the game, he reads the game well and he's got that driving force for himself as well in what you need to achieve and where you want to go to." Upon signing with Juventus, one of the club's former managers, Marcello Lippi, instead said of the defender's precocious performances: "I've seen plenty of greats, like Alessandro Nesta, Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Ciro Ferrara, Fabio Cannavaro, and Marco Materazzi. I've never seen anyone like that at his age."
In 2019, Giacomo Chiuchiolo described De Ligt as a "complete" and talented young defender, noting that although he is not exceptionally quick, he possesses excellent positioning and an ability to read the game, among his other technical and physical qualities. Despite his talent, however, he has come under criticism at times in the media for being inconsistent, due to his tendency to commit occasional lapses or errors, although his Juventus defensive teammate Leonardo Bonucci has stated that he believes that De Ligt will overcome these weaknesses with time, as he matures and gains more experience with age, and successfully adapts to the team's new defensive strategy under manager Maurizio Sarri, who uses a zonal system rather than man–to–man marking.
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