Who is Kepa? The lowdown on Chelsea’s new keeper

Swift rise

Kepa Arrizabalaga has been on Athletic Club’s books since he was nine, swiftly rising through the ranks. After a couple of seasons on loan in the second tier, he made his first-team debut (keeping a clean sheet at Deportivo) in September 2016. Kepa conceded just 22 goals in 23 outings in 2016/17; last season, despite finishing 16th, Athletic shipped fewer than fifth-placed Villarreal.

Playing style

Kepa denies Cristiano Ronaldo

Kepa denies Cristiano Ronaldo©AFP/Getty Images

“He has good reflexes, a great presence and great confidence that he transmits to others,” says Ernesto Valverde, the coach who gave him his Athletic debut aged 21. Only two keepers made more saves in the Liga last term, and he’s pretty good with his feet too – once deployed outfield during an injury crisis for his U14 team, he scored twice.

He nearly joined Real Madrid

Kepa had appeared destined to join Real Madrid in January. However, the European champions reportedly had a late change of heart so the 23-year-old stayed, signing a new contract in Bilbao. A few months later he showed the Merengues just what they had missed, producing several fine stops as Athletic drew at the Bernabéu.

Gold Kepa

Kepa (L) after winning the 2012 U19 EURO

Kepa (L) after winning the 2012 U19 EURO©Sportsfile

Everybody needs a hobby and Kepa is no different. He’s unlikely to find too many Chelsea colleagues to share his, though: birds. Born on the Basque coast, Kepa used to hunt goldfinches with his father and train them to sing. He was good, too, winning competitions with Oker, Rocky and Raikkonen.

International honours

Kepa has represented Spain at every level from U18 upwards, making his senior bow in a 5-0 win against Costa Rica in November 2017. He notably starred as the Roja won the U19 EURO in 2012, saving two penalties in the semi-final shoot-out against France en route to glory.

N.B. Never mind elaborate scouting networks, the Spaniard’s prowess had been signalled earlier this summer with his appearance among the UEFA.com correspondents’ ones to watch in season 2018/19: https://www.uefa.com/uefachampionsleague/news/newsid=2528631.html

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