Tuesday 21 August 2018

Chelsea to splash out €80m for Kepa

Blues break record fee for goalkeeper as Courtois gets his wish to join Real Madrid

Chelsea are paying a world record €80m for Athletic Bilbao’s goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga. Photo: Chris Brunskill/Getty Images
Chelsea are paying a world record €80m for Athletic Bilbao’s goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga. Photo: Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Matt Law

Chelsea have agreed to pay a world record €80m to replace Thibaut Courtois with Athletic Bilbao's goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.

With Courtois trying to force a move to Real Madrid by going AWOL, Chelsea have been moved to take drastic action and agreed to pay Kepa's buy-out clause ahead of tomorrow's Premier League transfer deadline.

The deal, which has been greeted by widespread astonishment, will shatter Chelsea's transfer record of €63m which they paid Real for striker Alvaro Morata last summer.

The path of Courtois to Real could be further smoothed by Real's offer to send midfielder Mateo Kovacic on a season-long loan to Chelsea.

Along with Kepa, Kovacic is expected in London today to complete a pre-deadline switch to Chelsea in what constitutes a frantic end to the transfer window for the Stamford Bridge club.

Chelsea had budgeted for trying to sign a midfielder and a new goalkeeper in the remaining days of the transfer window, so the chance to get Kovacic without paying a fee appears to have freed the cash to spend on Kepa.

Stoke City's Jack Butland and Sevilla's Sergio Rico, both of whom would have been considerably cheaper, had also been on Chelsea's radar but a move for Kepa gathered pace yesterday.

The deal will eclipse the €74m Liverpool paid Roma to make Alisson Becker the world's most expensive goalkeeper in July.

The Brazilian had been Chelsea's first-choice target to replace Courtois, but, at that time and with other targets still to land, the Blues were unwilling to enter an auction.

Kepa was on the cusp of moving to Real Madrid in January until then manager Zinedine Zidane pulled the plug on the proposed €18m deal, backing incumbent Keylor Navas in spite of club president Florentino Perez's interminable efforts to replace the Costa Rican with someone more marketable, dating back to the saga surrounding David De Gea.

Contract

Athletic then offered Kepa a new long-term contract, which increased his buyout figure to €80m.

The decision to spend so much money on Kepa represents a gamble on Chelsea's part as he has won only one Spanish international cap.

Courtois forced Chelsea's hand by going AWOL on Monday and the Belgian also failed to appear at their Cobham base yesterday.

The Beligan had indicated a willingness to sign a new €225,000-a-week contract with Chelsea last December, but subsequently stalled on putting pen to paper.

He then made it clear during the summer that he wanted to leave and, with only 12 months remaining on his current deal, that placed Chelsea in a difficult situation.

Courtois has his heart set - as he has for some time - on a move back to Spain with Real to be closer to his daughters, who live in the Spanish capital.

The European champions are understood to be offering in the region of €39m for the 6ft 6in Belgian, whom they see as a core element in a new, younger team under Julen Lopetegui.

New Chelsea head coach Maurizio Sarri will be pleased with the late business, however it has come about.

Sarri had made it clear that he did not want Courtois if the Belgian was not fully motivated to play for the club and believed he needed another midfielder.

Kovacic, a Croatia international, joined Madrid from Inter in 2015 for €30m but has struggled to cement a first-team berth and made only 10 La Liga starts last season.

He will most likely play alongside Jorginho and N'Golo Kanté in Sarri's favoured 4-3-3 system, raising further question marks over the futures of Tiemoue Bakayoko, Danny Drinkwater and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

But despite the fact Chelsea can still sell or loan out their players to overseas clubs until the end of August, Loftus-Cheek wants to stay at Stamford Bridge and fight for his place.

Bakayoko had also indicated a desire to stay, but Italian sources last night claimed that the former Monaco man could join AC Milan on loan.

Loftus-Cheek, Bakayoko and Drinkwater started Chelsea's final pre-season friendly against Lyon last night in a side that took on the distinct look of a second string. (© Daily Telegraph, London).

Irish Independent

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