All of the attention in Bilbao surrounds Kepa Arrizabalaga as the 22-year-old has yet to sign a contract extension with Athletic Club. The Lezama product will see his current deal expire at the end of this season and both sides have been hard at work negotiating a new deal, but nothing has come of it to this point. Earlier this week he joined the Spain National Team on international duty where he will be competing for the starting role in Julen Lopetegui’s team. On Wednesday he gave an exclusive interview with Miguel Ángel Lara of Mara and said that he is very happy to be where he is today.
“I’m happy. I do not like looking at the past, but if I do I see that I am progressing and that I am improving. I keep working hard so that I can grow and I don’t want to stop getting better. I owe a little bit to everyone. Of course, all the coaches I’ve ever had have helped me. I haven’t had any one coach for a long stretch, but I think it was very important to spend the preseason with the first team when I was only 16 years old. My loans also helped me a lot, which isn’t always the case for everyone. I am very grateful for the opportunity that Valverde gave me last season.”
Kepa went on to say that he has played keeper at every youth level since joining Athletic, but that he did play in the field at one point and even scored a brace in a match. He remembers his first gloves that his parents game him and understands that in modern football a keeper must also be able to use his feet.
“Since I joined Athletic I have played in goal at every level. Of course, in the Cadet we once had an injury and the coach pulled me out of goal to play in the field. I scored two goals! In the next game I thought I would be back in goal but the coach kept me in the field. I was shocked, but I ended up returning to keeper. I remember my first gloves. My parents gave them to me. From hands to feet I have improved a lot. I think I’ve grown up well and in current football the goalkeeper is the first attacker and the last defender. We have to use our feet a lot.”
When asked about his role at Athletic, Kepa said that he is proud to be the starting keeper at the unique club. He would not go into details regarding the renewal negotiations, but did say he is calm and focused on helping Athletic be as successful as possible.
“I am proud to be the goalkeeper for Athletic Club. My goal was to reach this stage and I have accomplished that goal. I am relaxed. My renewal is a subject that is between the club and myself. We are taking our time. I have always said that I will not make any negotiations public. When there is something, we will announce it. There are some negotiations that are resolved quickly and others that are not. Each takes its own time. That main thing is that I am calm and focused. It will not affect me. I hopefully will be able to be in the World Cup squad. Every player wants to be there. I will work hard to be at my best with Athletic and to go to the World Cup. I am grateful to Julen [Lopetegui] for this opportunity.”
In closing the 22-year-old praised Gianluigi Buffon, who will start against Spain over the international break, calling him a living legend. He also said that Fernando Torres got the best of him last season and that he is glad that Aritz Aduriz is his teammate instead of an opponent. The Lezama product is looking forward to the upcoming World Cup, but is also hopeful that Athletic will reach the final of the Europa League.
“I’ve never really looked to one goalkeeper in particular. I’ve always had a fixation for the position, but not for one player specifically. I focus on transmitting security to my team and how I can compliment the defense. Buffon is a living legend in football. He has spent many years at Juventus and the Italian National Team. Just saying his name is enough. Striker who has gotten the better of me? Fernando Torres in the last match at the Calderon. He put two goals past me. Aduriz? [Laughing] It’s better that he is on my team. I’m looking ahead to the future in Russia at the World Cup, but also at Lyon for the final of the Europa League. I really hope we can be there in May. It is a very different and beautiful goal of ours, but we are already in the group stage and we have many dreams for that competition.”
Kepa Arrizabalaga will be back in action with Athletic Club on 10 September when the Lions will host Girona at the San Mamés. That game will also see the return of Gorka Iraizoz and Jonas Ramalho who are former Athletic players. The Basques currently sit tied for fourth in the La Liga table on four points and will be looking to pick up three more to continue their strong start to the new season. All eyes will remain on Kepa’s contract renewal process, but for now he is calm and focused on helping his team keep picking up points.