Kepa Arrizabalaga finally reached the first team this season and there has been no looking back. The 22-year-old has become the unrivaled starter and he has been one of the best goalkeepers in all of Spain. While at Lezama, he was always seen as the keeper of the future, but not many expected him to take over the role as quickly as he has. On Tuesday, he gave an exclusive interview with Juanma Velasco of Marca to discuss how the exciting season has progressed. Here is what he had to say:
Fans say you are the goalkeeper of the future, do you agree?
“Hopefully it will be like that. I want to be here for a long time and I work hard to be the keeper for the years to come. It is not easy to stay at the best level, but I will try to respond to the expectations.”
You have been at Athletic for 13 years. What do you remember of that boy that started at a young age?
“A lot of time has passed! First, I remember the desire to enter the first team and enjoy football. Then, going through the youth stages and getting closer to the professional world I saw the first team getting closer. It is your life growing up and a journey that enriches you a lot.”
The last Athletic keeper from Ondarroa was Peio Agirreoa who played 48 games, which you will likely reach next season. What do you say to him when you see him at Lezama.
“He was one of my coaches at CD Basconia. The way he coaches it is not difficult to learn from him. Whenever we do see each other we talk for a long time because we have a very good relationship. As for the number of matches, catching him soon would be good news. It is clear that my intention is to play as many games as I can.”
After so much time at the youth level, when does one start really thinking about playing in the first team?
“I would say that it comes the moment you start training with them, even if you are a reserve team player. You realize that first day you are with with the older players that you are close. When you enter that team and feel the professional world around you, that is when you tell yourself it can happen at any time now.”
From the time you first trained with the first team until this season you had two loan assignments. Do you think they were necessary?
“Each player is different, but in my case they were necessary, yes. I had a couple of season at Bilbao Athletic and wanted to take a step further at a higher level. I had options to go in that summer and we decided to wait until the Winter market and that is when Ponferradina called. At Valladolid I came into a team that had the mindset to earn promotion, but we had a difficult year and did not pass mid table. In that sense it was hard, but it served for me to learn a lot. I think showcasing myself with U21 team helped also.”
In your first match at the San Mames your opponent scored in the second minute. What was that like?
“Yes, Yes it was a curious situation. I waited a long time to finally get my chance and the first time I touched the ball I was getting it from out of the back of the net. Luckily we were able to win the game and everything was beautiful. It is a day that I will always remember.”
There have been many matches where you have left mouths wide open with your stops and saves.
“I’m happy about how far I’ve come. I have experienced many positive things that I did not imagine at the beginning of the season…Being able to settle into the first team, fight for Europe, just feeling confident. Everything has been positive for me. This is what I have always wanted to fulfill.”
Goalkeepers can be very special when they can give safety and tranquility to the rest of the team. How do you keep your nerves under control?
“I already said that, before playing my first game in the San Mames, I felt a tickle and noticed that I had been standing still for a long time. It’s true that once you are on the field you are more relaxed and focused on the game. Being in the match element helps keep you concentrated, especially when you can just fully focus on the game.”
After the draw against Leganes, you have to go to the last game of the season to earn your place in the Europa League. Do you bet on being in Europe next season?
“We believe that we can be there, yes. We have done a great job so far and our points in the league confirm that. It is clear that this is our goal and that is what we will fight for in the Vicente Calderon.”
Kepa and Athletic Club will be back in action on Sunday as they conclude their season on the road against Atletico Madrid. The result of that game will determine whether or not the Lions qualify for the Europa League. It will be a very special game for all of those involved with this being the final match ever at the Vicente Calderon. Ernesto Valverde will have his entire squad available and will be going all out in hopes of a big win.