LONDON: Kepa Arrizabalaga is about to undertake a crash course in the pressures of the Premier League after Chelsea agreed a world goalkeeping record fee of £72m for the Bilbao 23-year-old to replace Real Madrid-bound Thibaut Courtois.
The gaping holes in Chelsea’s defence in Sunday’s 2:0 defeat by Manchester City in the FA Community Shield suggest the ex-Bilbao man faces a busy season.
Bilbao had raised the release clause in Kepa’s contract when he signed a new deal in January after a transfer to Real Madrid fell through. The fee exceed the £65m paid by Liverpool last month when they bought Brazil keeper Alisson from Roma.
Kepa has been offered a five-year contract, worth twice his present salary of £80,000 a week. His arrival before Thursday’s experimentally early transfer deadline will allow Chelsea to sell Courtois for £35m to Madrid who are also expected to loan Croatia midfielder Mateo Kovacic to the Blues for one season.
Courtois wanted to return to Madrid, where he had played previously for Atletico, to be close to his family. He had stayed away from training for the past three days and did not feature in Tuesday’s shootout victory in a friendly over Lyon.
Kepa has high standards to maintain. Courtois has proved an excellent successor at Chelsea to Petr Cech. Kepa helped Spain win the UEFA U-19 Euro in 2012 and was in the senior squad at the World Cup finals in Russia as reserve to David De Gea.
New Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri, who professing no knowledge of the transfer business, did praise Kepa, saying: “I saw him one year ago when I was at Naples and my first impression was he was a very good goalkeeper. Very young, but very, very good.”
The signing of Kovacic will probably see Chelsea selling or loaning out at least one of their over-stuffed midfield which includes Danny Drinkwater, Ross Barkley, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tiemoue Bakayoko.
Kepa will be one of the most expensive deals of the window though the fee will be rivalled by Manchester United if they can persuade Leicester to sell England central defender Harry Maguire.
The 25-year-old was one of the heroes of England’s run to the semi-finals of the World Cup and his signing would ease some of manager Jose Mourinho’s concerns at United’s minimal transfer business. United have focused on Maguire after losing interest in FC Bayern’s Jerome Boateng and Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld. Both are 29, four years older than Maguire.
United have insisted they will not sell Paul Pogba despite speculation linking the French World Cup-winner with both Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain.