On Tuesday night, Thibaut Courtois did what he does best: make saves. Saves after saves.
Five of them in fact, and that’s no easy feat when you consider that the opponents were Barcelona.
Diego Costa pulling out with injury after just 30 minutes and Diego scoring a screamer might have been the highlights of a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou, but Courtois’ valour and class was there for all to see.
Atletico Madrid stood strong and held their own against the Catalan giants in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie and even took the lead through Diego, whose sensational drive from 30 yards left Jose Pinto with no chance of a save whatsoever.
Then Barca rallied, and rallied menacingly. Following Neymar’s equaliser on 71 minutes, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi both went agonisingly close, but they were denied by the 21-year-old Belgian custodian.
And it is not just his performance against Barcelona that makes you wonder if he is the world’s best goalkeeper at the moment. Courtois’ calibre was clear when he was a teenager as Chelsea signed him from Genk in the summer of 2011. He was immediately loaned out to Atletico and what has happened since must have astounded everyone.
Courtois was supposed to get experience at Atletico and hone his skills. But he quickly became the number one goalkeeper for Los Rojiblancos, displacing a certain Sergio Asenjo, who until then had been tipped by many in Spain to become the ‘next Iker Casillas’.
Since then, Courtois has improved steadily in all aspects of goalkeeping and picking up a Copa del Rey and a Europa League medal on the way.
So much so that there are even suggestions that he will remain at Atletico for the next two seasons which will see his contract with Chelsea run out and then move to Real Madrid on a free. He will still be in his early 20s and Los Blancos would have signed a world class keeper for nothing. That is a testament of how much people in the football community rate him.
Of course, much could go wrong between now and then – just as it did for Asenjo, but what is clear at the moment that even at the tender age of 21, Courtois has come a world-class player. If you were to tag him as the world’s best goalkeeper, then you would even be right: he would face little competition in that area.
Bayern Munich and Germany’s Manuel Neuer would perhaps be most people’s favourites and Galatasaray’s Fernando Muslera might be on the minds of others, while Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon still remain world class.
Whether or not, Courtois is the world’s best goalkeeper is very much subjective and open to debate, but there can be argument that he is a very, very special player. If Chelsea fail to convince him to commit his long-term future to them, then they would eventually regret it.