Chelsea and new manager Maurizio Sarri are set to begin their first season together, looking to push their way back into the Premier League title race and improve their standing in world football through Champions League qualification.
One of the key players to the club’s recent success has been Thibaut Courtois, despite him having what many would describe as a poor individual campaign in the 2017-18 season. Chelsea fans will need to prepare themselves for a new man in goal, with Courtois expected to leave the club soon.
Reports this week suggest that Chelsea are set to spend a world-record £71 million transfer fee to secure the signature of Athletic Bilbao’s Kepa Arrizabalaga, with an official announcement expected before deadline day. The 23-year-old is believed to be travelling to London to complete the deal.
This fee would pass the all-time record for a goalkeeper, which was set only recently with Liverpool’s capture of Alisson Becker from AS Roma. Courtois has not been with Chelsea recently, focused on making a move back to Spain with Real Madrid.
The interest from Chelsea is obvious, as Kepa has proven himself to be one of the most talented young shot-stoppers in Europe. He was close to joining Los Blancos earlier this year, with manager Zinedine Zidane ultimately calling off the potential move. The ability to be one of the best is present, but Zidane did not want to disrupt the rhythm of his side in the middle of the season. This turned out to be the correct decision at the time, with Real lifting yet another Champions League crown.
Instead of playing in the Spanish capital, Kepa signed a new contract with Bilbao that featured a massive release clause. Los Leones were probably not expecting another club to come along so quickly and be prepared to activate that clause, but here we are. And much of it is due to Courtois’ decision, as well as Alisson’s recent fee at Anfield.
With the transfer deadline approaching, Courtois knew that Chelsea were going to be in a difficult situation if they did not give in to his demands to join Real Madrid. With the Premier League deadline arriving weeks before La Liga’s final date, the Blues had to make adjustments as soon as possible.
Kepa may not be ready to dominate in the English top flight, but the potential is there. He has been a reliable presence at the back for Bilbao during the past two seasons, and established himself as the number two keeper for the Spanish national team (behind only David de Gea).
£71 million seems somewhat unbelievable upon first glance, but it is simply a reflection of the market. While Chelsea were believed to be looking at cheaper solutions to their problem (Stoke’s Jack Butland and Sevilla’s Sergio Rico), the club recognised that Kepa may be the best long-term solution at goalkeeper. Liverpool knew they had to get their man with Alisson this summer, and Chelsea made a similar choice. Even if it was a forced choice.
Chelsea and Maurizio Sarri will be integrating a new goalkeeper into their team for the 2018-19 season. Kepa Arrizabalaga has a bright future, and his future in England was shaped in many ways by Thibaut Courtois’ exit from Stamford Bridge.