Crunch time for Chelsea's Courtois

by Steven GRIFFITHS
Is Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois on his way to Real Madrid?

Thibaut Courtois faces a defining period as the Chelsea goalkeeper juggles his bids for FA Cup and World Cup glory, while considering whether to commit his long-term future to the Blues.

Courtois has one year to run on his current Chelsea contract and a new �200,000-per-week ($269,000) deal to extend his stay at Stamford Bridge is reportedly on the table.

But the 26-year-old has been linked with Real Madrid and a move back to the Spanish capital could make sense for Courtois, who spent three years with Atletico Madrid on loan from Chelsea.

He is a regular visitor to Madrid, where his former partner Marta Dominguez lives with his children Nicolas and Adriana.

Real's current goalkeeper Keylor Navas has endured an error-prone campaign, sparking talk of an offer for Courtois.

Earlier this season, Courtois, who joined Chelsea from Genk in 2011, wouldn't rule out a move, telling reporters in Spain: "I have not made a decision on my future.

"I said my heart was in Madrid, because I have my two children there, and it was misinterpreted. This situation is not easy for me.

"I do not forget that Chelsea has supported me since the beginning.

"I do not think (Real Madrid president) Florentino Perez will call me, but he will call my agent who will listen to him."

With Chelsea having failed to qualify for next season's Champions League after finishing a disappointing fifth in the Premier League, Courtois is one of several stars whose futures with the club are now in doubt.

But before he considers whether to push for a move, Courtois has a chance to finish his domestic season on a high in Saturday's FA Cup final against Manchester United.

The Wembley showdown offers Chelsea their last shot at silverware this term as they look to make amends for last season's Cup final defeat against Arsenal.

Chelsea go into the final with Antonio Conte's future in doubt following the manager's season-long feud with the club's hierarchy over their failure to back his transfer plans after last year's league title triumph.

- 'Big motivation' -

The intense former Juventus coach has also reportedly alienated several players with his demanding training sessions.

Even beating United might not be enough to persuade Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich to keep Conte and Courtois hardly issued a vote of confidence in the Italian this week.

"It's not about the manager, we want to win for the fans and the club," Courtois said when asked about the significance of the final.

"If you want to win trophies, firstly, it's for the fans. They come there every week to support you. We are ready for it.

"We have a big motivation to win. And especially because we don't have a trophy this season."

If Courtois leaves Wembley with his first FA Cup winner's medal, it would be the perfect preparation for the World Cup.

Belgium head to Russia -- where they face England, Panama and Tunisia in the group stage -- ranked as one of the dark horses to win the tournament after assembling a squad packed with world-class talent.

But, despite the presence of Courtois, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and company, they have underachieved in recent years, bowing out in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016.

A long-awaited strong run from Belgium would set the stage for Courtois to underline his credentials as one of the world's top keepers -- and up the ante as Chelsea wait to discover if he will rebuff Real's interest.

Thibaut Courtois faces a defining period with Chelsea and Belgium