Back in the summer of 2018, Chelsea had finalized the deal to sell Thibaut Courtois to Real Madrid after the Belgian decided to end his stay at Stamford Bridge and the hunt for a replacement was on. Maurizio Sarri had taken over the reins that summer and was looking for a specific type of player he wanted in between the sticks to suit his style of “Sarri-ball” which requires a goalie who can contribute to the team’s build-up from the back.
With names like Mike Maignan and Fraser Forster doing the rounds in the media, club director and head of transfers Marina Granovskaia and the scouts were working quietly behind the scenes on a deal to sign Kepa Arrizabalaga from Athletic Bilbao in a deal which was done very quickly as the Blues agreed to pay a world record fee of 80 million euros on a lengthy 8 year contract. The scouts were confident that the player fit the player profile the club were looking for and was already on the radar of some of the top European clubs which is why the Blues wanted to get the deal done quickly without negotiating much with Bilbao’s representatives.
The Spaniard had an eventful debut season with the Blues which saw him have the infamous confrontation with his manager during the Carabao Cup semi-final against Manchester City wherein he refused to be subbed off as the game was heading towards penalties. This was not the only highlight of Kepa’s first season as he had a great individual season too keeping 23 clean sheets in 51 games in all competitions.
As a Chelsea fan, that is the only season in terms of his individual performances in which Kepa has looked well worth his 80 million euros as things went downhill after the conclusion of the 2018/19 season. The 2019/20 season saw Kepa keep just 10 clean sheets throughout the year while also conceding 58 goals in all competitions. The Spaniard was having personal problems off the pitch as he was going through a rough patch. According to reports, the 28-year-old broke up with his then girlfriend and was also finding it difficult to adjust to life in London away from home.
Ever since that season, the Spaniard has been through a lot at the club as he lost his place as the no.1 in 2020 when Edouard Mendy was signed by the club from Rennes. Being the most expensive goalkeeper in the world and warming the bench would certainly have been a difficult situation to face but the keeper set put and helped the team regardless.
Despite rumours of him being sold in the following transfer windows, Kepa has remained at the club and now looks like he has finally found his 2018/19 form back. Fast forward to the 2022/23 season and the 28-year-old is reinstated back as the no.1 goalie at the club and has improved considerably in his individual performances boasting of the record of the highest save percentage in the league.
Andrea Martinez: Kepa’s lucky charm
Kepa took to social media to publicly reveal he was dating former Miss Universe Spain 2020 Andrea Martinez in 2022. After ending his previous relationship which was a major factor behind his downfall in some sorts, the arrival of Andrea Martinez in his life has certainly been a lucky charm for the goalie.
Andrea is a plasmologist by profession and is elder than Kepa by 2 years. Born in the Spanish city of Leon, she represented her country in U-15 basketball before pursuing her professional studies. Though not much is known about her, Martinez keeps a low profile on her social media and has over 68k followers.
The duo confirmed they are engaged via a social media post in September 2022 after which Kepa’s footballing career also took off considerably. An injury to Edouard Mendy meant he had to deputize in between the sticks for new manager Graham Potter and the Spaniard didn’t fail to impress. Potter was left impressed by his ball-playing ability which suited his system and rewarded him with a no.1 position after Mendy’s long-term absence due to surgery for the injury.
With Kepa finding his old form back and looking in a better mental space, the fans are also happy for the Spaniard who has had to endure a rough patch at the club, face plenty of criticism and managed to still keep his head up and continue backing the team even though it was in a reserve role.
The story of Kepa is an inspiring one certainly in how he has managed to turn his career around while living under the pressure of such a huge price tag and plenty of criticism. Andrea is a person who should receive the plaudits for helping her better half through his struggles and helping him find his former self back. She has been his biggest cheerleader and is also seen occasionally at Stamford Bridge supporting him and the team. Her impact on his life has been immense and now it looks like the club are willing to offer him a contract extension in the summer as his performances have helped him earn the trust of the club and the fans back.