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Let the negotiations begin over Thibaut Courtois

Mar 19, 2013, 6:37 PM EDT

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Believe it or not, one of Chelsea’s most valuable assets has yet to play a single minute for the Blues.

Sound crazy? That’s because it is. And that’s also why earlier today Chelsea slapped a $30 million price tag on goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

The Belgian netminder arrived at Stamford Bridge on a $10.5 million transfer fee in 2011 as a project and potential replacement for Petr Cech. He was immediately loaned out to Atletico Madrid where he’s spent the last two successive seasons. Last year he proved himself to be one of the best in La Liga. This season he’s been downright filthy.

How dominant?

Courtois leads La Liga in goals conceded (24) and clean sheets (15). Even more incredible is that a little over a week ago the 20 year old set a new Atletico club record of 820 minutes without conceding a goal at the Estadio Vicente Calderon. For those of you without an abacus handy that’s the equivalent of just over nine games with a clean sheet. The feat has raised Courtois to cult-hero status among Colchoneros supporters and its management, which now faces a fierce battle to sign the keeper, or, at the least, to extend his loan spell.

The situation leaves Chelsea in one of those ‘good problems to have’ predicaments. Cech remains one of the greatest keepers to ever play the game and, at the age of 30, is having yet another world-class season between the pipes. The problem is that Cech’s contract at Stamford Bridge expires in 2016, which is precisely the same year when Courtois’ contract expires. Ahhhh decisions, decisions.

By setting Courtois’  price tag at $30 million – a value derived from Manchester United’s $28.5 million purchase of David de Gea from Atletico two years ago – Chelsea have made the first move in a chess match that promises to captivate the football masses. Expect multiple clubs, especially those with deep, oil rich pockets, to get in on the action to sign the 6’6″ Courtois.

But at the end of the day, it’s Atletico who hold the trump card that tickles Roman Abramovich’s fancy the most.

Helloooo, Radamel Falcao.

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