Kepa Arrizabalaga is living proof that sometimes the hype is real. Since joining Lezama at 9 years old, the goalkeeper has always been touted to become a star at Athletic Club. When he officially joined the first team this summer it was believed that it would only be a matter of time before he was knocking on the door of the starting lineup. That happened much quicker than anyone could have guessed. It only took a few months for the 22-year-old to overtake Gorka Iraizoz as the starting keeper and now there is no doubting his role in the team.
To put his performances in perspective, Kepa has been playing at a world class level. In 15 games this season he has only conceded 12 goals. Only twice did he concede more than a single goal in a game, and one of those matches being against league leaders Real Madrid. Those numbers look even more impressive when you take into account that Kepa has only lost 3 of his 15 starts between the sticks. Furthermore, of the 12 goals he has conceded, it is hard to find one where he is to blame.
As is usually the case with young players, it is important to examine beyond the statistics. Not surprising, but Kepa holds up here as well. He has always been a vocal keeper and this season he has taken that even further. He is a clear leader on the pitch and strong at communicating with his teammates. At times it even looks like he, Yeray, and Aymeric Laporte are all in each others heads. Perhaps that has something to do with the trio having played in the youth ranks together?
Those who have seen Kepa play throughout the years know that his greatest quality is the instinctive gift of being able to make miraculous saves. It just isn’t something that you can learn or be taught to do. This year that ability has been on display numerous times, including the amazing save that he made against Espanyol during Tuesday’s 2-0 victory at the San Mames. A header in the box looked certain to go into the goal but Kepa was somehow able to get a hand to the ball and parry it away. His shot-stopping ability is world class and his knack for leading his defense has matured well past his age. He doesn’t look like a goalkeeper in his rookie year with the first team, but rather a seasoned veteran among peers.
Kepa’s amazing performances this season are, undoubtedly, going to attract attention from clubs across Europe. Signing a star young keeper is always a transfer that fans will praise and Athletic Club certainly do not want to see their academy legend leave. As of now, Kepa’s contract runs until June of 2018 and holds a release clause of €30 million. If someone where to match that clause it would immediately make the 22-year-old one of the most expensive goalkeepers in history. At his age, no one is likely going to be willing to do that, but the inflated transfer market has caused stranger things to happen.
Extending Kepa’s contract is a top priority for Athletic Club. Not only does the club want to raise his release clause, but they also need to tie him up for the future. With only one more year remaining on his deal, the club cannot waste time. The 22-year-old is already one of the best goalkeepers in La Liga and wants to continue playing at Athletic Club. Talks have already begun, but those negotiations have not been made public at this time. However, it is believed that the two parties are close on a renewal that will see Kepa remain in Bilbao until 2022 and raise his clause substantially.
In a recent interview, the keeper was asked about his future at the club. He was quick to say that he is only focused on the current season, but when pressed he said that he has always identified with Athletic Club.
“I have to focus on getting better day to day. The family that I come from and the people that we are, I am Athletic and always have been. I came to Lezama at 9 years old and have gone through every youth level. What you are working for every day is to get to the first team, but when you at the academy it seems distant and difficult. But that is the goal. I’m happy to be where I am and to have come from where I did.. I have said it before, my dream is to win a title with Athletic Club.”
Kepa’s form and commitment to Athletic Club are unquestionable. The Lezama legend is finally realizing his potential and a new contract should be just around the corner. Other clubs across Europe will continue to look into the young keeper, but the Lions have their star of the present and future. With eight more games left this season and European competition on the line, Kepa Arrizabalaga can continue to shine in his debut season.