Belgium keeper Thibaut Courtois ‘deeply disappointed’ by his coach’s comments in captaincy row

Belgium's goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois holds a trophy as he celebrates his 100th match during the Euro 2024 group F qualifying soccer match between Belgium and Austria at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels, Saturday, June 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois questioned Domenico Tedesco’s “reality” after the Belgium coach accused him of abandoning his teammates and faking an injury before a European Championship qualifier.

Tedesco claimed Courtois didn’t turn up for Belgium’s training camp on Monday because the goalie was “offended” by his handling of the captaincy. After Courtois’ father denied there was a dispute within the squad and said his son was allowed to leave because of a knee inflammation, Tedesco told the media that Courtois was not injured.

Courtois responded in a statement late Monday accompanied with a picture of him in a Belgium outfit and one hand on his heart, standing next to interim captain Romelu Lukaku, that he was “deeply disappointed” that Tedesco spoke publicly about their locker room conversation.

He added that “the coach’s assessments do not fit with reality.”

Courtois insisted he has a problem in his right knee and his decision to leave was taken after consultations between the medical teams of his Real Madrid club and the national squad.

The goalkeeper also gave his version of the conversation he had with Tedesco about the team captaincy.

“I asked him, not for direct benefit, to explain and make decisions to avoid situations that in the past have harmed us while always looking for the general benefit,” he said. “To be or not to be the national team captain is neither a whim nor a random decision, it should be his decision, and that is what I tried to convey to him. Unfortunately I did not achieve my purpose.”

Before Courtois’ walkout, Tedesco publicly said it would be Courtois’ turn to wear the armband against Estonia on Tuesday.

“I insist that in no case have I demanded anything and that I have spoken to my teammate Romelu Lukaku to clarify any circumstances related to this situation,” Courtois added.

Lukaku was captain on Saturday when Belgium drew with Austria 1-1. Lukaku scored their equalizer. and Courtois was praised by Tedesco for preserving the draw.

But Tedesco said on Monday when Courtois — who has 102 matches for Belgium — didn’t regather with the team that the goalie was frustrated not to have been captain.

“And of course, I tried several times to speak to him: ‘Don’t do that to me, don’t do that to the staff, don’t do that to the team.’ Because it’s a tough one, it’s a hard decision that he took,” Tedesco said.

Asked whether he would leave the door open for Courtois to return to the national squad, Tedesco said, “It’s not the right moment to speak about it.”

Unbeaten in Group F, Belgium trails leader Austria by three points but has one match in hand before taking on Estonia.