Courtois: I want to emulate Buffon

The Chelsea goalkeeper is already taking measures to have a long career like the legendary Italy international

Thibaut Courtois is determined to remain at the top of his game until his late 30s, holding up Gianluigi Buffon and former Chelsea team-mate Mark Schwarzer as role models.

Schwarzer is the Blues’ oldest ever player, having lined up for them at 41-years-old in 2015, and he trained alongside the Belgium No.1 after they both joined the west London club.

Buffon, meanwhile, has announced he is leaving Juventus this summer, though he may continue to play elsewhere after receiving a number of offers.

Ahead of an FA Cup final date with Manchester United, the Belgium international has admitted that he is already taking steps to prolong his career.

“Everyone knows how much and how hard we train,” he said. “If I hope to continue goalkeeping until I am 36 or 37 then you have to think about how I train.

“For Buffon, I hear he trains less on the field and he is more focused on keeping his muscles strong. When I see how Mark Schwarzer, at 41, was able to train here then you see what is possible. Those are things I have picked up.

“There were maybe certain times where I maybe went a little lighter on certain things. Then you think: ‘No, I’ve got to do more.’ If I have a little injury problem or a hamstring niggle then I think I might need to do some more stretching or do some more preventive exercises. I think that’s very important in football and that was perhaps a habit that was underappreciated in our sport in the past.”

Recovery is now even more important due to the demands of the modern game, according to the goalkeeper, who says that football should take a look at how basketball is scheduled in the USA for advice.

“TV companies now expect more and more football,” he said. “For example, last year we had a World Cup qualifying match on June 13. If UEFA is a bit smarter then they would put that game in March. That’s because we had a friendly match against Russia in late May or early June, we were then able to play a friendly match, and everyone had five weeks off.

“If we play the World Cup final, we will have only two or three weeks of rest. That means your body can not relax at all. If you look at the NBA, eight months 82 games. The guys who play the finals will play the final in June, but only begin again in October.”

Gigi Buffon Juventus celebrating Scudetto

Courtois has only recently turned 26 but has played in over 350 senior matches in appearances for Belgium, Genk, Atletico Madrid and Chelsea.

He is hoping to end his club season on a high with a trophy in the shape of the FA Cup, despite his side missing out on Champions League football next season.

“I have already won the League Cup. That’s a nice trophy but the FA Cup has more prestige,” Courtois added. “As a player, you always want to win prizes.

“I think I played a good season. Sometimes there were bad moments but overall I have had good matches. I feel good and I think I did well in the last match.

“I don’t think the final will define my season, but of course it is nicer to end the campaign on a high with a trophy. You always go to the finals with the feeling that it is 50-50. Last year against Arsenal, everyone thought we were the big favorite but a final is always different.

“The only advantage I have is that I’m used to playing this kind of games. Guys with less experience might have more nerves. But a final is always a final and it is always difficult. I’m always looking forward to playing.”

Romelu Lukaku is facing a race to be fit to take on his former club Chelsea after a period out with injury and Courtois accepts that his compatriot can be a match winner on Saturday.

“Romelu has no secrets,” he said. “Everybody knows him. He is strong, fast and has a good shot. I know his strengths and weaknesses, but in a match anything can happen. It is difficult to follow his movement. He is important for Manchester United so hopefully we can keep him out of the game. ”

Willy Caballero and Thibaut Courtois at Chelsea

Courtois is competing with Willy Caballero, who has played in every round of the competition, to feature at Wembley.
If he is selected over the Argentine, it will be his final game of the season before he heads to play with Belgium in the 2018 World Cup. And he isn’t shy about his national side’s chances: he thinks they can win the World Cup in Russia this summer.

“If we don’t think we can win it, we should not go to a World Cup,” Courtois said. “If you are going to it then it is to go all the way, not to end up in the last 16 or the quarter-finals. That is our ambition. Everyone wants to go for it. It is also the time to do that. But you have plenty of countries that want the same thing.”

Belgium face Panama, Tunisia and England in Group G in Russia.


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