Confirmation on Monday Kepa Arrizabalaga had extended his contract with Athletic Bilbao provided some momentary relief for Madrid No.1 Keylor Navas, although a debate quickly started regarding which of David De Gea, Thibaut Courtois and Jan Oblak the Bernabeu outfit will try and sign this summer.
Kepa, 23, was widely expected to join Madrid, with the Spain international having reportedly undergone a medical in the Spanish capital on Jan. 4, and the Bernabeu hierarchy’s plan to trigger his previous €20 million release clause.
El Athletic Club y el jugador @kepa_46 han suscrito el acuerdo de renovación por el que el jugador permanecerá en la disciplina rojiblanca hasta el 30 de junio de 2025. La cláusula de rescisión será de 80 millones de euros. #athletic pic.twitter.com/KMzTbMoqz4
— Athletic Club (@AthleticClub) 22 January 2018
However, Real coach Zinedine Zidane has held firm to his public commitment that he does not want reinforcements midseason, and wants to give his underperforming squad a chance to turn things around, reportedly causing some friction with club president Florentino Perez.
The morning after Kepa agreed his new deal, which runs until 2025 and includes an €80m clause, Marca’s front cover said “Zidane stops it” while also pointing out that a foot injury was a factor in Kepa staying at San Mames.
MARCA (@marca) January
Navas will remain Madrid’s No.1 until the summer at least. Kiko Casilla had been linked with Newcastle this month, but he will stay where he is for now. But few pundits in Spain think that situation will continue long term.
It can’t be easy for the Costa Rica international, who managed to displace long time club captain Iker Casillas but has lived with knowing he is not really the preferred option ever since the great David De Gea fiasco of summer 2015.
Finishing both seasons since by lifting the Champions League has not been a bad response — and Zidane has always backed Navas whenever asked publicly.
It is also true, though, that Navas has not been consistently great through that time. There were a number of high profile mistakes last season as he struggled to get back to his best following a foot operation. Even last Sunday at the Bernabeu, there were some who felt he might have done more to stop Deportivo La Coruna opening the scoring, although he later made some decent saves and his team ran out comfortable 7-1 winners.
On Monday, former Madrid president Ramon Calderon, never slow in criticising incumbent Perez, bluntly tweeted what many believe around the club.
A miracle that @NavasKeylor
is playing at such a high level having to overcome not only the pressure of being the @realmadrid
keeper but also to know that the Club has been looking for a substitute during the last 2 years
— Ramón Calderón
Much of the immediate speculation after Kepa put pen to paper was a rehash of previous reporting. It will probably take a little while for a clearer picture to emerge as the rumour mill cranks up ahead of the summer — but all involved are already jockeying for position.
Long-time target De Gea is still Perez’s primary objective, and although Manchester United are trying to arrange a new contract, a return home to the Spanish capital may be attractive for the former Atletico keeper.
Atletico No.1 Oblak also has contract issues to resolve. Last summer, as his coveted teammates including Antoine Griezmann, Saul Niguez and Koke all got bumper pay rises, the Slovenia international finished the transfer window saying he could only commit to one more year at the club. It would be no surprise were he to move on this summer, although a transfer across the Spanish capital would be difficult.
Adding to the intrigue is Chelsea’s Courtois — another ex-Atletico player — being so publicly unsure about his future. The Belgium international was apparently close to signing a new deal — making him the world’s best paid goalkeeper — but that has not happened yet. Like De Gea, Courtois has less than 18 months on his contract, and close personal ties with the Spanish capital.
Yet another variable to add to the mix is Paris Saint-Germain seem certain to move for a goalkeeper next summer. They were previously thought to be considering triggering Oblak’s €100m release clause, but AS say Courtois is now uppermost in their thinking.
The ending of the Kepa saga on Monday counts as a temporary reprieve for Navas, but the identity of Madrid’s first choice keeper for 2018-19 remains unknown.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan