The Belgian was expected to be an instant star at the Bernabeu but he has struggled for regular game time and top form since his move from Chelsea
It seemed like the usual banality, but Thibaut Courtois was on the money when he said he wouldn’t instantly become No.1 as he was presented as a new Real Madrid player.
Yet from the outside there didn’t look to be much doubt about the Belgian’s status after he arrived from Chelsea for £35 million (€40m) in August as Madrid’s main summer investment.
Arriving after an impressive World Cup campaign with Belgium that saw him keep three clean sheets as his country finished third, Courtois was supposed to succeed Keylor Navas.
Real Madrid had tried unsuccessfully for three years to replace the Costa Rican goalkeeper, coming closest with a swap move for Manchester United’s David de Gea which broke down on transfer deadline day in September 2015.
Courtois did not join Madrid to sit on the bench, but his start to life at the Santiago Bernabeu has seen more downs than ups. After a mistake against Alaves that cost Madrid a point last Saturday, he has faced criticism.
Coach Julen Lopetegui retained his faith in Navas at the start of the season, picking the shot-stopper against Atletico Madrid in Real’s European Super Cup defeat — and saving Courtois a hostile evening playing against his former side.
However he was made to wait two more matches before getting his first taste of action for Madrid, Navas starting in the opening two league wins.
The Belgian was getting itchy feet but Lopetegui brought him in for two consecutive games, a 4-1 victory over Leganes and a disappointing 1-1 draw at Athletic Bilbao.
No clean sheets, but the goals conceded were not Courtois’s fault. Leganes’s Guido Carrillo sent him the wrong way from the penalty spot and Madrid’s defence let him down at the San Mames for Iker Muniain’s goal. Perhaps at his very best he might have been able to cut out Oscar de Marcos’s cross, but Bilbao’s goal cannot be chalked up to error.
Despite that, Lopetegui returned to Navas for the visit of Roma in the Champions League, showing he still hadn’t settled on his preferred choice. Madrid triumphed 3-0 in their best performance of the season.
"It's for the coach to decide who plays. He makes the decisions but nothing has been agreed,” Courtois told Belgian newspaper HLN. “There is no fixed rotation system in place or anything like that.”
He was restored for the next three league games, but the tide started to turn against Madrid. A 1-0 win over Espanyol earned Courtois his first clean sheet, but he had little to do in a dull match, and was brought crashing back to reality by Sevilla in a 3-0 humiliation in Andalusia.
Courtois might have done better with the second and third goals, parrying a shot into the path of Andre Silva (pictured below) before failing to race off his line to deal with a lofted ball back into the box for Wissam Ben Yedder’s strike.
It was a chastening evening for Lopetegui and the coach reacted in a defensive display against Atletico Madrid that led to a goalless derby draw.
That was Courtois’s best performance of the season, keeping both Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa at bay as the Atletico duo raced in on goal.
After the game he defended his style and insisted he could pass well even though it was not his strongest point.
"I'm not bad with my feet. Maybe I'm not amongst the best but I'm not bad either. I dare to play with my feet,” Courtois told Belgofut .
“Sometimes, I give a bad pass but I know that more goalkeepers, who they say are phenomenal with their feet, commit more errors than me."
However it was his positioning that saw Courtois suffer his worst moment, in his next game.
Misreading a last-minute Alaves corner, Courtois was badly positioned and could only push Ruben Sobrino’s header into the gleeful Manu Garcia’s path.
It was salt in the wound for Madrid, who went a fourth game without scoring and suffered a second consecutive defeat after a 1-0 stumble against CSKA Moscow in Europe.
This is what’s called a crisis, at a club as big as Madrid. For Courtois, who described his move to Real Madrid as a "dream", it has been anything but so far.
As Lopetegui looks for answers he may stop switching around his goalkeepers. That might bode well for Courtois who is still favourite to take over as the main man, but there is a chance that Lopetegui could lean the other way. It would have been easy for him to axe Navas but the Spanish coach has refused to do that.
The two have similar statistics; Navas edges Courtois in that Madrid have won three of five games he has featured in, compared to two of six with the Belgian between the sticks. Each goalkeeper has two clean sheets and both have conceded six goals each.
With Navas heading halfway across the world as Costa Rica play Colombia and Mexico during the international break, while Courtois only needs to go to Belgium for a clash with the Netherlands, Lopetegui might opt for the latter as Madrid get back to business against Levante on October 20.
Along with a Champions League game against Viktoria Plzen on October 23, those two fixtures make up the rest of Madrid’s run-up to the Clasico on October 28.
Courtois will be desperate to feature in the biggest game on the planet for the first time in his career. The clash at Camp Nou is a game which could either be the start of something special for him at Real Madrid, the type of fixture that makes a man, or even spell the end of Lopetegui’s reign should things go wrong.