The return of Kepa Arrizabalaga to the national team after more than three years without playing for Spain tells the story of a reconstruction from a hard and disconcerting moment: “I have gone through a most difficult period.
I had never stopped playing in my life”, said the Chelsea goalkeeper this Tuesday at the Ciudad del Fútbol de Las Rozas, after the second training session to prepare for Saturday's game against Norway (20:45, La1).
He is referring to the almost two seasons in which he lost ownership at the English club, where he arrived in 2018 as the most expensive goalkeeper in history after the 80 million they paid for him to Athletic.
Abramovich hired Thomas Tuchel in January 2021, and that's when the goalkeeper's luck began to turn around: “At that time we were playing in a very particular way, with another formation, with five defenders.
A new coach demanded other things from us that we had not used, or that were not normal for goalkeepers.
We came from an Italian coach [Maurizio Sarri] with whom we were very protagonists with our feet.
And then a German [after a brief period with Lampard] asked us for other positions, to help in other aspects, ”he recalls.
"When you have to get out of what you have been doing for many years in a row, you need a period, you need to look at other examples to adapt."
It was a very difficult moment in which Luis Enrique spoke with him to explain that if he didn't play in London it didn't seem convenient for him to appear in the squad calls.
Kepa, despite his disappointment, shared the diagnosis: “I understood that he did not have the opportunities to be there.
If I didn't play every weekend... My first goal was to play for my club, so that this would be the next one”.
The mental shift to overcome an unusual situation began small: “I decided to go home every day with a calm head, with the feeling of having given everything.
It was the first step to work to turn it around, "he says.
“If I could have chosen, I would not have chosen that, but there were two directions, and one was to take advantage of it to analyze myself more time, and to improve the things in which I could improve the most.
To work more on myself.
I took each game as a great opportunity, to pay attention to every little detail and be a better goalkeeper.
Now, having the confidence of the coach, I try to bring all that up to date".
The fruits of the reconstruction are notable: Kepa, who has already turned 28, is setting the best records of his career this season in the Premier, where he is the goalkeeper with the best saved shot percentage, 77.8%.
He is also the fourth with the best clean sheet ratio: he achieves it in 42.1% of the games, more than ever in his career.
Not only does he stand out in the Premier, but he is the tenth goalkeeper in the five major European leagues who avoids the most goals, according to fbref.com: 0.18 per game.
In none of the times in which he has played regularly, had he been so decisive for his team, neither in London nor in Bilbao.
With the part of the plan that concerned his position at Chelsea fulfilled, the consequence he expected has arrived.
Kepa is back in the national team: "It's exciting to come back here, to go back to Las Rozas," he says.
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