Athletic Club Will Survive The Loss Of Kepa Arrizabalaga
The reality has finally set in around the streets of Bilbao. Kepa Arrizabalaga is gone. The boy who joined Lezama at 9 years old was dubbed the next José Ángel Iribar made the decision to leave the San Mamés and head to Chelsea after paying his €80 million release clause. The move came just 192 days after he silenced links to Real Madrid by signing a new 7 year contract. When the news first broke it seemed unreal, but it all spiraled to completion extremely quickly.
Before fans really had the chance to process everything Kepa was already at the Bilbao airport flying to Madrid. Once videos surfaced that he was in Madrid to deposit the release clause it all became real. The 23-year-old was already one of the best goalkeepers in football and well on his way to becoming a club legend. He had always dreamed of playing for Athletic and just two years in he was gone.
On the surface, losing Kepa Arrizabalaga is a massive blow for Athletic. The keeper has always played at such a high level that he has singlehandedly won matches for the Lions over last two years. His leadership, confidence, and composure were all amazing for someone his age and not easy to replace. Kepa’s exit is a terrible thing, but Athletic Club will survive.
Looking back over the years there have been a few big names who have left the San Mamés and the club was able to continue at their high level. Sometimes there was even improvement. With the departure of Fernando Llorente came Aritz Aduriz. Javi Martinez left for Bayern Munich but two years later the Lions qualified for the Champions League. Then Ander Herrera left, which was initially disastrous, but Athletic continued to earn their place in Europe.
The most recent exit came in January when Aymeric Laporte finally accepted an offer from Manchester City which saw the English side pay his €65 million release clause. That money was put towards signing Iñigo Martinez and the argument could be made that the team actually improved. Earlier this summer more of that income saw the transfer of Yuri Berchiche who will add even more quality to the team.
Every time a major player has left Athletic the club has found a way to recover quickly and continue their success. Over the last five years the club has brought in a total of €221 million from four players leaving through release clauses. While Athletic would much rather have the player, they have done a fine job protecting themselves and making sure they get a sizable return. The Lions have always found a way to continue success after losing a vitally important player and, as crazy as it sounds, it may be even easier with Kepa’s departure.
The goalkeeper position just so happens to be the deepest area at Athletic, mainly due to the success of Lezama. Iago Herrerín has already proven that he can perform in the Primera and Alex Remiro is ready for his chance to prove that he can step out of Kepa’s shadow. Add in other young stars like Unai Simón and there are plenty of options to pick up the baton. None of these players may be at the same level as Kepa, but they are solid and more than capable of protecting the Athletic goal.
While it is true that Kepa had to save Athletic on more than a handful of games last season, the team as a whole has gotten much better. The additions of Dani García, Ander Capa, Christian Ganea, and Yuri Berchiche has brought valuable quality and others like Unai López are ready to play a big role in the team. If Eduardo Berizzo can keep the team playing at a high level it will give Herrerín and Remiro the chance to be successful. There is also the option that Athletic could invest their newfound wealth in more players, but that remains to be seen.
If history has proven one thing it is that no player is bigger than Athletic. The club is put above everything else and success has followed. Of course, the Lions have had their rough moments like any other team, but there is something special and unique about the Zurigorri that just can’t be accurately put into words. Yes, losing Kepa is heartbreaking and extremely disappointing, but Athletic have been here before and they will survive.