Kepa Arrizabalaga became the most expensive goalkeeper in history when Chelsea paid Athletic Bilbao €80 million to break the buy-out clause in the 23-year-old Spaniard’s contract.
The man from Ondorroa was courted by many suitors including European champions Real Madrid and also went to the World Cup in Russia as back-up to David de Gea. Arrizabalaga started his career at Basconia at 17, a feeder club to Bilbao in the fourth division.
Two years later, Bilbao Athletic, the Basque County club’s B team came calling and the then Spain Under-19 international made 50 appearances for the side in four years, besides also moving to Ponferradina and Valladolid on loan. An injury to Bilbao Athletic’s first-choice keeper Jon Ander Serantes in 2013 first opened the doors for Arrizabalaga at Los Leones’ second team.
Incidentally, the man who picked him for Spain’s 2018 World Cup squad was also the coach under whom Arrizabalaga won his first major Championship. Julen Lopetegui’s Spanish team, which won the Under-19 Euros in Estonia in 2012 featured the likes of Suso, Paco Alcacer, Jese, Gerard Delofeu, Denis Suarez and Juan Bernat, also saw Arrizabalaga save two penalties from Samuel Umtiti and Geoffrey Kondogbia as Spain toppled France in the semis.
An injury would however, rule Lopetegui’s number one out of the Under-20 World Cup in 2013, where France, containing a chunk of the senior team that emerged victorious in Russia, would triumph.
As his loan spell at Valladolid came to a conclusion in 2016, Ernesto Valverde included him in the first team for the season which began post the completion of the Euros. Initially selected as third-choice behind Gorka Iraizoz and Iago Herrerin, Arrizabalaga made his competitive debut in the top flight, helping his side earn a clean sheet in a 1-0 away win against Deportiva La Coruna.
After Valverde’s final season in charge of Bilbao which saw the Basque county club qualify for Europea and the manager depart for Barcelona, Kepa was praised for his ‘mature performances’ in goal.
For the 22-year-old, the biggest rewards of a consistent season would be a call-up to the senior national side ahead of a World Cup qualifier, replacing the injured Pepe Reina. His solitary cap till date would come against Malaga later that year, starting and playing the full 90 in a 5-0 friendly win over Costa Rica.
Zidane and Real came calling in the winter transfer window of 2018 but Arrizabalaga rejected the approach of the capital club, instead extending his contract to seven and a half years, with a €80 million buy-out clause.
With the amount that Chelsea have shelled out for the shot-stopper, there is no doubt that Arrizabalaga will come under heavy scrutiny. The Spaniard will be expected to start as the Blues’ number one in anticipation of Thibaut Courtois’ impending departure. In terms of signing keepers who were of the highest pedigree and readily available on the market, there could have been few better options for the Blues.
Sarriball just became a lot more interesting.