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Real Madrid’s Courtois breaks glass ceiling in Champions League win


Yesterday my daughter, who rarely watches a full game of football, called up her grandad, a Real Madrid fan since the days of Pahíño some 70 years ago. She told him Madrid had beaten Liverpool because of Thibaut Courtois, and found the remark didn’t go down well at all. I told her why: much as you don’t want to call your lawyer or doctor into action, a supporter of a top club doesn’t want to rely on their goalkeeper. If you have to, it’s a bad sign. No-one goes to the game to see their keeper have a blinder; that’s something they expect of their forwards. When it comes to how goals are scored, we’ve been collecting all manner of stats since the word go: left foot, right foot, header, penalty, long range, close range. But only since the emergence of ‘big data’ have saves started to be documented in such detail, and this kind of info is chiefly there for the specialist. The wider public doesn’t pore over that.

It’s unusual for a goalkeeper to be a fan idol, particularly at a big club. It happened at Athletic Club in the days of ‘Iribar and 10 others’, because his exceptional displays coincided with the first significant decline in Athletic’s history. Then we had the exceptional Luis Arconada, but even he had to compete with the likes of Roberto López Ufarte, Jesús María Zamora and Jesús María Satrústegui for the supporters’ adulation at Real Sociedad. During that period, the goalkeeper at Real Madrid was Miguel Ángel. Not long ago, he told me that he was something like the 17th-highest paid player in a squad of 22. That wasn’t where he ranked in terms of performances; he was, without a shadow of a doubt, among Madrid’s five best players.

See also:

Courtois achieves a first in Real Madrid’s European Cup history

Iker Casillas had to fight tooth and nail for every penny when he negotiated his Madrid contracts. He even fired his agent, accusing him of only playing hard ball when sorting out Raúl’s extensions. Casillas made three miraculous stops in Glasgow, but all the glory has gone to Zinedine Zidane for his winning goal, just as Andrés Iniesta gets the credit for Spain’s World Cup final victory, despite Casillas’ save to deny Arjen Robben. Now, though, Courtois has broken a glass ceiling. “I wasn’t about to let this Champions League slip,” he said post-match. He was highly motivated: recently, the magazine FourFourTwo snubbed him by leaving him off a list of the 10 best goalkeepers in the world. Of the three European Cup finals Madrid have lost, the keeper has been blamed for two; of the 14 they’ve won, this is the first that’s been put down to the saves he’s pulled off. But that’s what he’s there to do, my daughter was told yesterday.