By Mark Elkington
MADRID, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Exciting young goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, in his second season on loan with Atletico Madrid, has laughed off suggestions that parent club Chelsea are keen to swap him for Colombia's much-wanted striker Radamel Falcao.
The European champions have been constantly linked by the media with a big-money swoop for Atletico's hot-shot marksman Falcao but Courtois has dismissed the idea he could be involved in some sort of exchange deal.
"A lot of things the press say are nonsense," the 20-year-old Belgium international told Reuters in an interview held at Atletico's training ground, just outside the Spanish capital. "They are guessing.
"They know Chelsea want Radamel Falcao but Chelsea have also told me, 'The last thing we want to do is sell you'. Maybe they are lying to me but I don't think so."
The Londoners signed Courtois from Racing Genk in 2011 as a long-term replacement for Petr Cech and he was immediately loaned out to Atletico.
A year and a half later the Belgian is firmly established as the number one keeper in an Atletico team lying second in La Liga, that also won the 2012 Europa League and hammered Champions League winners Chelsea 4-1 in last year's European Super Cup.
"The problem is I think that Chelsea didn't expect me to be at this level this soon," said Courtois.
Talking in a measured style in fluent English, one of four languages he is comfortable with, the towering keeper displays a confidence and composure well ahead of his years.
"I've developed really quickly," said Courtois. "It's a very good situation for Chelsea.
"They have Cech, who is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and I think I am an up and coming young talent with the quality maybe also to play for Chelsea. They will continue with Cech for two more years, I think."
The 6-foot-6 (1.99-metre) Courtois comes from a family of volleyball players and has a clear idea about which team he eventually wants to play for.
"It was strange joining Chelsea but when I signed I knew I would be loaned out to a team," he said. "They had like a five-year plan for me.
"I only went to Chelsea to take my medical. I then went straight to Atletico and had a good year so I preferred to stay for another year."
Courtois has caught the eye of many of Europe's top clubs, proving a great shot-stopper and a confident presence in the penalty area.
As a kid he looked up to Cech, Netherlands keeper Edwin van der Sar and Real Madrid's Iker Casillas.
DAVID DE GEA
Courtois said he had sympathy for Manchester United's young Spanish keeper David De Gea who has been criticised for a perceived weakness under high balls.
"You cannot expect him to go from Spain to England and be adapted to that immediately," Courtois said. "I think De Gea is important for United and you have to give him a chance.
"He will make mistakes, all keepers make mistakes, we are human.
"I don't think it would be a big problem for me. In the Super Cup I played against Chelsea, with Atletico I have played against Celtic, with Belgium I have played against Scotland and Wales. I didn't have too many problems and they all play with that physical style."
Atletico have been revolutionised since the arrival of Argentine coach Diego Simeone 14 months ago and are fighting on three fronts in the Europa League, the King's Cup, where they hold a 2-1 first-leg advantage over Sevilla in their semi-final, and La Liga.
Courtois explained some of the alterations that have helped make Simeone's side so tough to play against.
"We play without risk," he said. "The change was to play further up the pitch, keep the danger away from our goal. We play really direct football.
"He has brought more aggression and intensity. It comes from his character. He is always shouting and screaming on the touchline.
"The club's number one objective is to get into the Champions League and we hope to qualify directly."
Courtois wears the number one jersey for Belgium's rapidly-developing young team who are joint top of their World Cup qualifying group along with Croatia.
With talents such as Chelsea's Eden Hazard, Tottenham Hotspur's Moussa Dembele and Zenit St Petersburg's Axel Witsel, the squad are being touted as a new 'golden generation'.
"We have a lot of good players in our team," Courtois said. "Ten years ago maybe 90 percent of the players played in Belgium and only 10 percent played in other leagues - now it's the other way round.
"Of course we feel the pressure of expectation. It's a very long time since we competed in a big tournament (the 2002 World Cup) ... but we have a squad of 23 who can all play very well." (Editing by Tony Jimenez)