Imanol Etxeberria Praises Kepa Arrizabalaga And Discusses The Goalkeeper Situation At Athletic Club
Imanol Etxeberria may know Kepa Arrizabalaga better than anyone else. The goalkeeping coach trained him, and others, for many years at Lezama and was promoted to the first team as part of Kuko Ziganda’s staff last season. The 45-year-old recently spoke with Iñaki Ugalde Mundo Deportivo and discussed Athletic Club’s current goalkeeper situation and how they performed last season.
“Kepa and Iago were very good and I was very happy with their performances lsat season. I have learned a lot from them, from training keepers in the first division, and the talks I had with them left me happy. Kepa earned us points in some matches and Iago competed well in Europe and when he played in the league. We had two of the best goalkeepers and I am proud that everyone speaks well of them.”
When asked about his relationship with the 23-year-old, Etxeberria admitted that they have been close since he was a child and that Kepa used to get upset when he wasn’t receiving correction in training sessions. To be honest, there wasn’t really much to correct.
“I have been training Kepa since we called him Kepita. There were two years as a child, and then again in the Juvenil team and then at Basconia and Bilbao Athletic. He would get frustrated when we didn’t correct him in training because he thought we weren’t counting on him for the next season, but it was the opposite. Despite facing new competition every year he did the drills very well and there wasn’t a lot to correct. He was always natural.”
Etxeberria went on to praise Kepa for his professionalism and ability to take care of his body. The Athletic star is always hard on himself and studies every detail about opponents in preparation for matches. He demands a lot out of himself in training every day and expects the same from his coaches.
“The truth is that Kepa is a guy who has grasped what it means to be a professional. He has his head wrapped around it and knows how to take care of himself and work hard. He’s a perfectionist. He’s had some big injuries and he takes care of himself and protects himself from things. He studies opponents…their tendencies, strategies, penalties and free kicks. He’s a professional from the moment he wakes up to when he goes to bed and he always demands that you train him very well every day. He has a lot of ideas on the contents of training sessions.”
With Spain currently playin at the World Cup a lot of conversation surrounding the team has been focused on Kepa and David De Gea. Many fans believe that the Athletic keeper should be starting after De Gea has made a few mistakes and Etxeberria was asked his thoughts on the matter. With all due respect to the Manchester United ace, Etxeberria would bet on Kepa succeeding anywhere.
“Regardless of how good De Gea is, Kepa could succeed anywhere. I remember the beginning of Iker Casillas and everyone said that he could play anywhere. I believe that it is the same with Kepa. You put him anywhere in the world and he would do well. He’s a goalkeeper who has a lot of quality and is always prepared. His renewal situation was not something that was complicated to us because he behaved very well and didn’t look disconcerted. He was injured, but he was also very involved in his recovery and always thinking of the team. I never saw him clueless or sullen. He was still the same, the same as always.”
Etxeberria also had high praise for Iago Herrerín and stated that the 30-year-old fully earned his contract renewal that was signed in January. He understands that Herrerín wants to play regularly because he has proven himself capable of succeeding in the Primera, but recognizes that the ultimate decision will come down to new manager Eduardo Berizzo.
“Iago is a good goalkeeper. He earned his renewal because he competed very well in Europe and showed that he could be trusted because he was a guarantee. Obviously he wants to play more because he is able to play in the Primera, but with Kepa it is complicated and he knows it because Kepa is the best of the best. I don’t know what will happen with him. There are very good goalkeepers in Lezama so let’s see what happens with the decision of the new coach, whether he wants lets him go or wants him to stay. There are and always will be great goalkeepers at Athletic.”
In closing, the former coach was asked whether or not believes that someone would be willing to pay Kepa’s €80 million clause. He responded by saying that due to Kepa’s quality that fee would be a steal and also praised the development of other Lezama keepers, Alex Remiro and Unai Simón.
“It isn’t impossible for someone to pay Kepa’s clause given the level that he has been playing at. We have already seen it with Aymeric Laporte and €80 million for someone like Kepa would be cheap because he has top quality and is also very young. Alex Remiro is another one that I have trained since a child and has grown a lot in a short amount of time. This year he showed that he can be a keeper in the first division. He’s done well and has good characteristics of what a goalkeeper needs today – he can use his feet, his height, and is always calm. He’s a good goalkeeper. Unai Simón is also a very good goalkeeper and a hard worker. He is going to do great things.”
Kepa Arrizabalaga is firmly entrenched as Athletic Club’s starting keeper, but there is still concern over what the future holds for the other players at the club. Herrerín has made it clear that he doesn’t want to be a backup, but Berizzo may not be willing to let him leave. Meanwhile, Alex Remiro and Unai Simón are both entering the final years of their contracts and are due for extensions that will also see them leave on loan in order to continue their development.