Chelsea are facing a damaging row with Atletico Madrid about whether to allow their on-loan goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, to play against them if the two clubs are thrown together in Friday’s Champions League draw for the semi-finals and final.
It will be one of the proudest moments in Atletico Madrid’s recent history and the highlight of Courtois’ career but it could also spell the end of his participation in a competition he has dominated.
No keeper has let in fewer goals in this season’s tournament with the Belgian conceding only five. But a clause in his loan contract will prevent him playing against Chelsea unless the Spanish club are prepared to pay a huge fee to the Londoners, believed to be around £4.5m, for the two matches. A fee would also be due if the two sides were to meet in the final instead. Last night, Chelsea would not comment on the contractual situation.
“If I had the money I would pay for him to play myself,” said midfielder Koke, who scored Atletico’s winning goal against Barcelona this week. The club’s president, Enrique Cerezo, had earlier admitted that it was a “large sum of money” which the club “could not afford”.
Courtois has delayed signing a new contract at Chelsea because he is unhappy at being owned by one club and playing for another. Unlike in the Premier League, clubs in Uefa competitions cannot ban players they loan out from lining up against them, unless the contracts between the clubs include clauses that mean the borrowing club must pay for the player to be eligible.
A guide to the Champions League semi-finalists
A guide to the Champions League semi-finalists
1/4 REAL MADRID
Best: Winners (1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1966, 1998, 2000, 2002)
Star man: Cristiano Ronaldo
Manager: Carlo Ancelotti – has won the league in England, France and Italy, as well as the Champions League twice with Milan, and is now expected to deliver ‘la decima’ – Real Madrid’s tenth European title
Top scorer: Cristiano Ronaldo (14)
Top assist: Karim Benzema/Angel Di Maria (both 5)
Overview: After sailing through the group stages unbeaten, and then dispatching Schalke 9-2 in the last 16, Real Madrid were the form team in the tournament until their scare against Dortmund. The 2-0 defeat in Germany, albeit without their talisman Ronaldo, has revealed a chink in the armour, but you still wouldn’t want to draw them.
Best: Winners (2012)
Star man: Eden Hazard
Manager: Jose Mourinho – The ‘Special One’ is looking to become the first manager to win the competition with three different teams having succeeded at Porto and Inter
Top scorer: Samuel Eto’o/Demba Ba/Fernando Torres (all 3)
Top assist: Oscar (4)
Overview: Despite losing twice to unfancied Basel, Chelsea topped their group and saw off the tricky task of Galatasaray in the last 16. Needed a last minute goal to scrape past PSG in the quarter-final, and will go into the semi-finals as underdogs – as they did in 2012.
3/4 BAYERN MUNICH
Best: Winners (1974, 1975, 1976, 2001, 2013)
Star man: Franck Ribery
Manager: Pep Guardiola – in his first season at Barcelona he won a treble that included the Champions League, and he’s on course to do the same in his first season at Bayern. If he does it his place among the greats will no longer be in doubt.
Top scorer: Thomas Muller (5)
Top assist: Arjen Robben/Phillip Lahm (both 3)
Overview: Aside from a defeat at home to Manchester City, by which stage qualification was already secured, Bayern have been almost perfect, blowing away Arsenal and Manchester United in the knock-out stages. Favourites to become the first team in the Champions League era to retain the title.
4/4 ATLETICO MADRID
Best: Runners-up (1974)
Star man: Diego Costa
Manager: Diego Simeone – the only manager left who was at his club last season, Simeone has built a team performing beyond the resources of Atletico, with a real shot at a first Spanish title since 1996.
Top scorer: Diego Costa (7)
Top assist: Gabi (4)
Overview: Atletico are the only unbeaten team left in the competition, and having seen off Milan and Barcelona they deserve their place in the semi-finals. They may be the only team left never to have won a European title, but they can no longer be considered underdogs, and everyone will want to avoid them.
Chelsea inserted such a clause in Courtois’ latest loan deal at the start of the season after suffering at his hands in the European Super Cup in 2012. He hopes that Chelsea can be convinced to drop the fee as part of the final stages of the talks over a new deal.
The two parties are close to agreeing a five-year extension but are still in discussions over salary. Atletico are also considering the prospect of selling striker Diego Costa, who has a £32m clause in his contract, for a reduced fee to Chelsea this summer in exchange for Courtois playing for free.
It will be the first time in seven years that Barcelona have not been in the last four and with their transfer ban looming their immediate future in a competition they have won three times in the last 11 years looks bleak.
Lionel Messi and manager Gerardo Martino bore the brunt of the criticism for their defeat by Atletico. Statistics revealed Messi had run only twice the distance of his own goalkeeper Jose Pinto.
Martino was undone by his own words. “We weren’t really interested in Messi having a lot of participation in the game. We just wanted him to have one-on-one situations down the right,” he said.