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The most expensive goalkeeper in history was also the weakest in the Premier League. But today he is in the form of his life

Football knows how to present us with such stories of unexpected redemption and revenge of fate. Stories that never get boring because they contain the quintessence of sports.

Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga produced another heroic performance in his side’s goalless draw against Brentford on Wednesday night. It was the guard who won the point for his side with impressive tackles when it looked like the Blues would bend against the brave hosts.

Chelsea had the upper hand for most of the match but Brentford had the better chances and once again Kepa was to be man of the match for Graham Potter’s side.

He now boasts five consecutive clean sheets, the first time in his career at Stamford Bridge.

But before he earned the standing ovation and respect of the entire Premier League, his stay in England looked like a mistake.

The most expensive goalkeeper in football history cost Chelsea a whopping €80m when they bought him from Athletic Bilbao in 2018. At first his future on the Island looked bright, but then he found himself frozen to the bench.

The previous head coach Thomas Tuchel barely used him and Edouard Mendy was a regular starter in his place. However, things in football can change too quickly and suddenly.

Apparently, Kepa Arrizabalaga had to hit the bottom first to get to the top.

A few years ago, he was listed as the worst goalkeeper in the history of the Premier League in terms of save percentage.

Kepa’s save percentage was just 54.5%, which ranked him a final 730th among all goalkeepers with more than ten appearances in England’s top flight.

His figures were so poor that they ranked him 127th out of 132 goalkeepers in Europe’s top seven leagues that season.

Of course, then the label “the most expensive goalkeeper in the world” had become a huge burden both for the footballer himself and for his club.

Even before that, it was not only his game that was under fire, but also his behavior. The Spaniard was the protagonist in one of the most curious cases in English football in recent times – when he refused to be substituted in the League Cup final.

Maurizio Sarri’s coaching staff decided to replace him, but he did not want to leave the game and caused a long row. Chelsea lost the final to Manchester City on penalties, from which Kepa emerged as the great anti-hero.

The goalkeeper did not apologize until two years later, when explaining the situation. But by then his image had long since collapsed.

In the summer of 2020, Frank Lampard was adamant in his desire to bring in a new goalkeeper, and so Eduard Mendy arrived at Stamford Bridge. The Senegal international quickly established himself as a starter and there seemed to be no turning back.

At one point, Kepa was in danger of dropping to fourth-choice in Chelsea’s goal as the club re-booked legend Petr Cech.

Lampard was sacked in January 2021, but Mendy further cemented his position under new manager Thomas Tuchel, and Chelsea won the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup with the Senegalese in goal.

Mendy has established himself as one of the best in the Premier League, made the perfect team of the season in the Champions League and grabbed the FIFA No. 1 goalkeeper award.

With such competition, the most logical decision for Kepa Arrizabalaga was to look for another team where he has a chance to play regularly. Chelsea had already accepted that the best option was to simply sell him at a loss, and Kepa himself had also resigned himself.

But with his controversial reputation, it has not been easy to find a team that matches his ambitions.

“He tried and looked at the possibilities in front of him, we were also aware of them,” revealed Thomas Tuchel. “But they weren’t satisfactory to him and to us. So he stayed.”

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There was simply no way to predict before the start of the current season that Tuchel would lose his job so soon and Mendy his starting place. Both looked steadfast, but Chelsea got a new manager at the start of September.

Graham Potter’s arrival coincided with an injury to Mendy and Kepa got his long-awaited chance. Even when the Senegalese recovered, there was no way to dislodge his colleague from the starting 11.

In the first three games since his return in goal, Kepa has prevented more goals than any other goalkeeper in the same period, according to OptaJoe data.

Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Aston Villa was largely due to the Spaniard making seven saves. It was his most number of tackles without conceding a goal in his elite career.

Kepa’s performance has become a major talking point at Chelsea and Graham Potter has praised the keeper for his consistency and tenacity.

“I’m impressed with his character, he’s very professional, he understands the game very well, he takes responsibility. It’s nice when this type of person is rewarded because it’s a reward for hard work and dedication.”

The attitude of the fans is also completely different now. In Kepa’s bad spells, he had to endure withering criticism from the most discerning of the Chelsea campaign, and his high price tag loomed over him every time he took to the pitch.

Now, however, fans are euphoric about his performance and thank Graham Potter for betting on him.

The Spaniard played six games in October and only conceded a goal in the first of them.

With him in goal, Potter’s Chelsea stabilized and stopped conceding goals, while defensive performance had become an unexpected weakness towards the end of Tuchel’s spell.

Kepa himself admits that he has already gained confidence and is enjoying his time at Stamford Bridge.

“I feel very good, I’m confident both with and without the ball. It’s very important to have your confidence and belief in what you’re doing,” he commented.

“Of course, I had very difficult moments. I also had good ones. In life you also have good and bad periods, you have to be strong mentally, not to give up on your ideas and to keep working”.

As long as the Spaniard performs like this, he will continue to be indispensable in Chelsea’s goal.

And if his form holds, Kepa’s revival will go down as one of the most inspiring and unexpected stories of this football season.

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