Playing against your parent club in a European final must be a unique situation but, ahead of Friday's UEFA Super Cup match, Thibaut Courtois has no doubt about which mast his colours are tied to. "I play for Atlético and I want to win it," the goalkeeper told UEFA.com.
Courtois joined Chelsea FC from KRC Genk in July 2011 and, viewed as a great prospect but not ready to challenge Petr Čech for the No1 shirt, was immediately loaned to Club Atlético de Madrid. He has made quite an impression in the Spanish capital, quickly establishing himself as first choice between the posts and helping Diego Simeone's team win the UEFA Europa League in May.
Atlético have secured Courtois' services for another year and fate has it that the Belgian international will face European champions Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup in Monaco. His long-term future may be in London yet the keeper's current allegiance is firmly in Madrid. "It's special for me as the game is against my club," Courtois said. "But
I play for Atlético, it's me against Chelsea, and I want to win it."
Still only 20, he has proved a quick learner during his stay in Spain. "I had to adapt to the rhythm, which is faster here," Courtois, capped three times by his country, said. "It was tricky for maybe the first five or six weeks. I had to adapt to the positions of the players." Now he is "happy to be here another year" as Atlético seek to improve on last term's fifth-place finish in the Liga.
Coach Simeone says Courtois has "a brilliant future" and "keeps coming on because he has much more to give". The player himself feels the last 12 months have enhanced his game immeasurably. "I have more experience now and am better at a lot of things – at close-range shots and my reactions. My hand reflexes are better than one or two years ago."
With another Atlético campaign to look forward to, Courtois is hopeful of more success. "We have a very competitive team with three or four strong new signings," he said. "We have a team that can make it into the top four in Spain. In the Europa League and the Spanish Cup it's pretty difficult – a bit of bad luck and you're out. But if we play like last season we can go a long way."
For now, the focus is getting one over his future team-mates in the curtain-raiser to the European season. That includes players he may line up alongside for both club and country, such as Eden Hazard, who believes Courtois "could be the goalkeeper Belgium have been waiting for since Preud'homme or Pfaff".
Courtois said: "I keep my fingers crossed for them, for all my friends at Chelsea and for my Belgium team-mates who play there now. I wish them the best of luck. But I want to win the Super Cup. I hope it will be a good match and may the better team win."
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