Thibaut Courtois reportedly skips Chelsea training to force transfer to Real Madrid

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Thibaut Courtois has won trophies at Chelsea, but now has his eyes set on <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/teams/real-madrid/" data-ylk="slk:Real Madrid">Real Madrid</a>. (Getty)
Thibaut Courtois has won trophies at Chelsea, but now has his eyes set on Real Madrid. (Getty)

Thibaut Courtois wants to leave Chelsea. Chelsea isn’t particularly keen on selling him. On Monday, the Belgian goalkeeper turned the discord into a standoff that appears to be getting contentious.

Courtois, according to a report from the Daily Telegraph, has “gone AWOL.” One day after reportedly staying home in Belgium rather than attending the Community Shield, the 26-year-old skipped his first scheduled training session after a post-World Cup vacation.

His absence was unannounced and unexplained. But the motive is clear: Courtois has his eyes set on Real Madrid. The reigning champions of Europe have previously had a bid for the keeper rejected by Chelsea. It appears Courtois is going to go to great lengths to force Chelsea to accept.

But the Blues must navigate a tricky situation that isn’t as simple as sell or stand pat.

Why Chelsea should sell Courtois

Courtois is in the last year of his contract, and apparently has no designs on signing a new one. The potential consequences of refusing to sell, therefore, are twofold. Chelsea would risk losing a prime-age player for free next summer. It would also be counting on unceasing season-long commitment from a player who clearly doesn’t want to be at the club.

New Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri has essentially admitted that’s a problem, saying Sunday that he wants “only players with high levels of motivation.” Sarri wanted to speak with Courtois face-to-face upon the keeper’s arrival in London on Monday. But that, clearly, has not happened.

So assuming Real Madrid’s interest and financial willingness are legitimate, it appears likely that Chelsea will let Courtois return to Spain. But if it does, it needs a replacement, and that’s where things get complicated.

Why Chelsea shouldn’t sell Courtois

Courtois is a top-10 goalkeeper in the world. Chelsea would be silly to let him go without a fight – especially because there is no obvious replacement available. And there is a tight deadline on procuring one.

The issue for Chelsea is that the Premier League’s summer transfer window closes on Thursday at noon ET. La Liga’s remains open until the end of the month, meaning the Courtois saga could potentially drag on for weeks. But if Chelsea were to attempt to hold on to Courtois, then concede the tug-of-war to Real Madrid and the player next week, it would be left with Willy Caballero as its starting goalkeeper until January.

Chelsea has less than three days to not only line up a Courtois replacement but secure one – fee paid, contract signed, etc. The hottest rumor links Stoke City’s Jack Butland with a move to Stamford Bridge. But he’d be a significant downgrade. Unless Chelsea somehow throws $100 million at Atletico Madrid and forces the Spaniards to part with Jan Oblak, it will be weakened by a Courtois sale.

And now that Courtois has made his desires unmistakable, Chelsea might not even be able to recoup fair compensation.

How does Courtois’ absence affect the situation?

Courtois’ absence rips leverage away from Chelsea and hands it to Real Madrid. Los Blancos now know Chelsea is under immense pressure to sell. If the relationship between Courtois and Chelsea has become irreparable – if the Premier League club acknowledges that there is no way to rectify the situation – Real won’t be inclined to up its bid, because it will be aware Chelsea can’t really afford to hold onto Courtois.

Chelsea could, of course, call Courtois’ bluff and bet on his return once Real Madrid vanishes as an alternative in September. But Courtois could, in response, stage a holdout, refusing to play. He would be fined, so he’d essentially be forfeiting his salary. He probably wouldn’t go full Diego Costa and stay in Belgium past the end of August. But it’s a semi-realistic possibility.

The Premier League’s early transfer deadline is also problematic here. If Chelsea decides it has no other option but to sell Courtois, its top priority – given the urgency – might become finding a replacement. But if Chelsea signs that replacement Thursday, then turns its attention to Real Madrid negotiations, the Blues would have even less leverage – the arrival of the replacement a giveaway that they are planning to sell.

There might even be ripple effects of Courtois’ holdout as well. Stoke can jack up its Butland asking price, knowing that Chelsea will likely need a replacement.

What will happen?

Even if it’s a sub-optimal solution for Chelsea, Courtois will likely be a Real Madrid player when the La Liga season kicks off. He wants to go. His agent has put public pressure on Chelsea. The Blues will sell for market value by the end of this week.

Chelsea, to accommodate, will probably overpay for Butland. Sevilla’s Sergio Rico is reportedly another option. A swap deal for Real’s Keylor Navas might even be logical. Everton’s Jordan Pickford has also been mentioned. But Butland is the top candidate, and very well could start Chelsea’s Premier League opener against Huddersfield on Saturday.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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