Sports 

Courtois has potential to equal Buffon – Conte

Thibaut Courtois has the potential to be as great as Gianluigi Buffon and is capable of becoming a Chelsea legend if he remains at Stamford Bridge “for many years,” according to head coach Antonio Conte.

Chelsea are reportedly set to offer Courtois — who has kept 11 clean sheets in 18 Premier League appearances this season — a bumper new contract to ward off persistent interest from Real Madrid, amid reports in Spain that the 24-year-old has told friends and family he will move back to La Liga next summer.

Courtois has won league titles in Belgium, Spain and England and seven major trophies in total since making his professional debut in April 2009 as a 16-year-old for Genk, and is widely regarded as one of the most talented goalkeepers of his generation.

Conte, who worked with Juventus and Italy legend Buffon as a player and coach for a number of years with club and country, believes that Courtois has all the attributes to scale similar heights — and wants the Belgian to build his legacy at Chelsea.

Asked if he could see similarities between Courtois and Buffon, Conte replied: “The stories … the histories are similar. Buffon started his career early in Parma and the same for Thibaut, who started to play early. I hope for Thibaut to repeat the same career as Buffon.

“I think that Buffon is one of the best goalkeepers of all time. I stayed with him at Juventus before as teammates, and then as his coach, in the national team also. I think Buffon is a legend for football, and I hope Thibaut has the same career.

“Thibaut is a Chelsea player and I want him to stay here. I think he’s very happy to stay here. I see him with this club for many years. I want this, the club wants this. I don’t see any problem.”

Courtois has previously stated that he intends to re-assess his future at Chelsea in the summer of 2018, when he will enter the final year of his current contract, but Conte says he would like to see the 24-year-old commit to staying at Stamford Bridge beyond that date.

“I think that’s a club decision,” Conte said when asked about contract talks. “But, in my opinion, yes, I think that a goalkeeper like Thibaut deserves to stay at Chelsea for many years and become a type of player to stay and write the story of this club, to become a legend at this club.”

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