Atletico Madrid's Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. EPA
Atletico Madrid's Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. EPA

Who can handle the pressure?

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Atletico Madrid's Belgian stopper Thibaut Courtois, 21, is one of the two best young goalkeepers in the world. The other is Manchester United's 22-year-old David de Gea, the man Courtois replaced at Madrid.

Atletico are fortunate to have had Courtois on loan from Chelsea for so long - a top-class goalkeeper without a transfer fee. He is in his third season, though Chelsea have indicated that they want him back to replace Petr Cech for next season.

Spain boasts some of the planet's finest goalkeepers. There are Spaniards such as Iker Casillas, Victor Valdes, Pepe Reina and De Gea - and the imports, such as Courtois. Yet a year from now, the clubs where they play will look very different.

Valdes, 31, has made it clear that he wants a change after an entire career spent at Camp Nou. He said: "One year as Barcelona keeper is like three years at another team.

The pressure is immense."

Valdes has been honest enough to state his desire to move publicly, which did not go down well in the local media and has divided fans. His contract runs until next June, when he will be able to leave on a free transfer - making him hugely attractive to any buyers and making it hugely lucrative for Valdes.

Valdes says his decision is "irrevocable", yet Barcelona president Sandro Rossel will try to persuade the keeper to stay, pointing out the positives of being at Barca.

If not, Barca will look at the aforementioned names. Casillas? It could happen.

"Saint" Iker is the captain of Real Madrid and one of the most popular men in Spain. Even Barca fans respect him. Casillas lost his place in the Madrid side to Diego Lopez last December, with Jose Mourinho dropping him for "footballing reasons". Casillas, 32, said he believes it was because he helped smooth relations between Barca and Madrid players when Mourinho wanted to do the opposite.

Carlo Ancelotti, the new Madrid coach, has stuck with Lopez. Casillas is captain of his club and the world and European champions, yet he is not first choice for Madrid.

The situation has to change for all - and it will. Expect intrigue and surprises along the way.

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