“We need to ask him, and we need to be honest with him. And he needs to be honest with us, this is the most important,” was how Thomas Tuchel reflected on the current standing of Kepa Arrizabalaga as we approach an unpredictable summer at Chelsea.
The goalkeeper signed for a record £71.6million fee from Athletic Club in 2018 has firmly been ensconced in an understudy role to Edouard Mendy since the beginning of the 2020/21 season. Even after Frank Lampard’s sacking and Tuchel’s openness to give the out-of-form keeper more opportunities, the Spaniard has always remained second-choice.
It might be considered a final nail in the coffin of his Blues career that he did not start either of the last two FA Cup rounds over Mendy, despite playing every round in the same competition last season, and the early rounds of the Carabao Cup before Christmas. With Tuchel firmly sticking with Mendy, Kepa’s last start coming against Luton on the 2nd of March, the focus is quickly turning to a summer that could see his departure.
READ MORE: Worst Chelsea fears realised as Thomas Tuchel ‘awkward’ West Ham verdict poses two questions
“He is still our player, and we don’t know about the situation with the ownership, what is possible and what is not. So first of all, he is our player, and he is a fantastic guy to deal with this kind of situation, which is not easy for him.” Tuchel further explained.
“I felt his disappointment around the Club World Cup where he played a brilliant semi-final, but we put in Edou in the final. I felt his disappointment, I could understand it even, and we had a talk about it. I felt his disappointment also for the Carabao Cup final because he brought us there and had the feeling he deserved – and he was right – to play in the final. Still, we made the decision for Edou.”
It feels unfortunate that the most recent memory of Kepa for most is the sight of him blasting his penalty over the bar in the shootout against Liverpool in February that lost Chelsea the Carabao Cup final. Up until that point, it was in the shootouts where Kepa was slowly rebuilding his reputation, whilst also pulling off some fine saves in other games – like the Club World Cup semi-final.
The issue of his potential exit has always surrounded that original fee and lofty wages, which will still be a hurdle this summer, even with the wealth of Newcastle linked.
Kepa’s inevitable exit will add another name to the list of transfer failures after the club broke their record to sign them. Fernando Torres and Alvaro Morata feel the most obvious here. £50million and £60million respectively in 2011 and 2017, both Spanish forwards failed to deliver the goalscoring prowess they had for other clubs.
And even if his Chelsea future is unclear, Romelu Lukaku could still join that unfortunate list in the coming months as his Blues return has failed to get going.
Kepa has redeemed himself in some key moments, the UEFA Super Cup shootout being the high point since Tuchel’s arrival. But the writing on the wall has been there for some time and it feels like for all parties, an amicable split is the best solution in the coming months.