Real Madrid are constantly linked with goalkeepers. Ever since losing out on David De Gea due to late paperwork in the summer of 2015, Los Blancos have been tipped with a move for a number of shot-stoppers. The latest is Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Kepa is perhaps not the household name many Madrid fans would want to see as the next No.1 at the Santiago Bernabeu but he could well become Keylor Navas’ successor.
Reports of a done deal by some outlets in Spain seem premature, but the Spanish and European champions are keeping tabs on the 23-year-old ahead of a possible transfer in January.
That is because Kepa is out of contract at Athletic Club in the summer and a transfer in the winter window is the Basques’ last opportunity to sell the player for a fee unless he signs a new contract at San Mames.
At 1.89 metres, Kepa is taller than Madrid’s current first-choice shot-stopper Navas, and he has remarkable reflexes. He moved up to Athletic’s first-team squad last season under Ernesto Valverde (having spent the previous campaign on loan at Valladolid in Segunda) and alternated with Gorka Iraizoz in La Liga.
This term, he has been the undisputed starter for Athletic and, after representing Spain at every level in the youth teams, he made his senior debut for La Roja in a 5-0 win over Costa Rica (who were without Navas) in Malaga last month.
If Kepa does arrive in January in a deal which could cost around €25 million, the future of both Navas and second-choice goalkeeper Kiko Casilla will be unclear – especially with Madrid still keen on De Gea and also eyeing a summer swoop for Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois.
“First of all, we must pay big respect for Real Madrid goalkeepers Keylor and Kiko,” former Arsenal shot-stopper Manuel Almunia told Goal in an interview this week. “They’ve been doing so well in the last years. They helped the team a lot in the tournaments that Real Madrid won in the last few years.
“At big clubs there is always a debate with goalkeepers, strikers, or anything. I don’t know if Real Madrid will sign Kepa. He’s a very good goalkeeper for the future. I don’t know if he’s the best, I’ve not seen him too much this year. But if Real Madrid are focused on him it’s because he can be a good goalkeeper for the future.”
There is little doubt about that and when asked about a possible move for the Basque ahead of Madrid’s trip to San Mames earlier this month, Zidane said: “Kepa is a good goalkeeper, but he’s not my goalkeeper.”
The Frenchman would not be drawn on a transfer, but took the opportunity to back Navas, just as he has throughout his reign. “I always have the best. I have Keylor and he is the best,” Zidane said.
The Costa Rican, who will be 31 on Friday, has taken time out through injury again this season, but he remains a popular player in the dressing room and was important again as Madrid won the bix prizes in 2016-17, having suffered a dip in form earlier in the campaign.
“I will fight to the death against whoever arrives,” he said in the summer. Given his current status at the club, he would be extremely unlikely to lose his place in January, even if Kepa is signed.
Kepa’s age mean he would be seen as a starter for the future at Real, although Los Blancos’ pursuit of the 25-year-old Courtois (who is keen on a return to Madrid to be closer to his two children) would complicate matters for the Basque and also the Costa Rican.
Nevertheless, it is in fitting with Madrid’s two-tier policy of buying the best young Spanish talents around to complement their senior stars, following the moves for Theo Hernandez, Dani Ceballos, Marco Asensio and others in recent times.
Ideally, that means a Spanish goalkeeper for the future as well and with De Gea now 27 and settled at Manchester United, Kepa looks like a more realistic option. Younger, cheaper and the next in line for the national team, the Basque (who has been compared to Real legend Iker Casillas) appears to tick all the boxes for Los Blancos.