Kepa Arrizabalaga has been a revelation for Chelsea. He can learn from his predecessors successes and failures and become a legend at the club.
Kepa Arrizabalaga joined Chelsea in the summer for an over-inflated transfer fee in the region of £72 million. Coming in as a replacement for the wantaway Thibaut Courtois, the Spanish youngster was welcomed by the Stamford Bridge faithful like a breath of fresh spearmint.
Halfway through his first season between the sticks, Arrizabalaga is genuinely looking like a keeper in both senses of the word. The club clearly thought so when they signed him up on a seven year contract. Whilst the media has taken the opportunity to put fuel on the fire that the Spaniard is not all that, the stats do not bear that out and the fans certainly do not agree.
His first 29 appearances for the Blues have seen him concede 19 goals whilst keeping 15 clean sheets. His team have won 19 games, drawn four and lost five. Compare that to Thibaut Courtois in his first season in 2014/15. During his first 29 appearances he conceded 27 goals, kept 11 clean sheets whilst the team won 19, drew eight and lost two. It took Courtois until early April to reach the same game total Arrizabalaga is now at.
Stats, though, do not tell the whole story. Courtois won the Premier League with Chelsea in that first season. Arrizabalaga will need some kind of bizarre twist of fate to do the same.
Whilst Courtois is vilified for his desire to head back to Madrid to ply his trade, Chelsea’s hierarchy hardly gave him the impetus to be loyal. Unfortunately for the Belgian, his arrival at the club coincided with Petr Cech being at the peak of his career. The 19-year old was never likely to oust the incumbent 10 years his senior.
Courtois arrived on a five year deal in July 2011, and just days later shipped out of the club like so many youngsters before and after. An initial one year loan to Atletico Madrid became two years. A third followed. Courtois found a city that reciprocated his love. He only ever looked back.
He eventually arrived at Chelsea as their number one keeper in 2014 courtesy of Jose Mourinho. The chosen one had made his choice. Courtois signed a new five year contract in September 2014 saying:
I’m very happy with this new deal, it’s really nice to have signed this new contract for five years. My future was already sorted but it’s nice to know I’m going to be here for another five years and now I can just concentrate on playing games. – Chelsea FC
During the close season, his Spanish girlfriend gave birth to their daughter. Two years later whilst expecting their second child – a boy – the couple amicably split. With his kids back in Spain, the lure of the Spanish capital was too much and his departure from Chelsea was considerably less harmonious.
Maybe best to draw a line under that now.
As Arrizabalaga embarks on what could be a long and illustrious career in SW6, he will do well to adopt Cech’s attitude rather than that of Courtois. Cech became a Chelsea legend during his time with the club.
He was a leader among leaders, something that is drastically lacking with the current squad. Courtois, too, had the ability to lead, he just did not know when to stop talking. Goalkeepers should be seen and not heard – unless they are calling for the ball.
In a recent article, Travis Tyler looked at Arrizabalaga’s role under Maurizio Sarri’s convoluted system of play.
Kepa is a better, more composed footballer than either Courtois or Cech. He has the ability to play out from the back using his feet and can pick a pass when under pressure.
If he can in any way emulate the feats achieved by either of his predecessors over the next six years, he will go a long way to cementing his place among the annals of Chelsea greats.
With time on his side, that £72 million price tag could yet turn out to be the deal of the century.