Premier League • England

Chelsea ‘always had faith in me’ – Rejuvenated star backed by Tuchel rubbishes exit talk despite strong Napoli links

Chelsea Saul Niguez, Marcos Alonso, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Cesar Azpilicueta

Kepa Arrizabalaga whose importance to Chelsea has been highlighted in recent weeks has insisted the Blues never wished to sell him despite details of a collapsed Napoli move emerging.

The Spanish stopper, 27, became the world’s most expensive goalkeeper when joining from Athletic Bilbao in 2018. Chelsea triggered his £72m release clause, though just two years later, a new face was signed.

The Blues landed Edouard Mendy who ousted Kepa as the regular starter from day one. In the subsequent two years, Kepa has been relegated to a bench role in the Premier League, though is generally favoured in the cups.

With the signing of American sensation Gabriel Slonina crossing the line on August 2, questions were raised as to Kepa’s role at the club.

Strong links to Napoli emerged, with Sky Italia and Fabrizio Romano both shedding light on the situation.

Chelsea were  understood to be willing to pay up to three quarters of Kepa’s salary if he moved to Naples on loan. However, the Serie A side ultimately wound up signing Salvatore Sirigu instead on August 11.

Another season on the bench awaited, though Mendy has left the door ajar through a series of unconvincing displays in the season’s early going.

What’s more, the Senegalese missed the last match against RB Salzburg through injury, allowing Kepa to start two in a row in the Champions League.

Before Thomas Tuchel was sacked, the ex-Blues boss put his faith in Kepa when declaring he’s doing all he can behind the scenes to perform well when called upon.

Tuchel did admit Kepa explored his exit options, though they ultimately weren’t to his or the club’s liking.

Napoli terms weren’t satisfactory – Tuchel

“He tried and checked his options, which we were aware of,” said Tuchel. “They were not satisfying for him or for us so he stayed and I’m very happy about that.

“I was always very clear directly with him that I would love him to stay and my point of view is that he’s absolutely ready to play.

“It’s on us if we give him the chance or not. But he’s 100 per cent ready with how he behaves and trains.”

Now, Kepa was weighed in on his future, admitting there were indeed options to leave.

However, he stressed Chelsea never actually wanted to sever ties, something he was happy to see when reaffirming his happiness at remaining where he is.

“There were things but the club always had their faith in me,” Kepa told Spanish radio station El Larguero (via Inside Futbol).

“They always wanted me to be part of their squad.

“We analysed the situation and I am happy to stay and be at this club.”

Kepa not an immediate concern

If Mendy does overcome his struggles and re-establish himself as the No 1, Kepa will return to his role as the domestic cup keeper.

The Blues will be keeping a close eye on how Slonina fares while loaned back to Chicago Fire. If he continues to develop at a rapid rate, he may yet take Kepa’s back-up role sooner than some may expect.

However, Kepa’s future is not something that will concern Chelsea too greatly at present.

His contract doesn’t expire until the summer of 2025, meaning they have another five transfer windows to organise a sale if that’s their ultimate intention.

In the meantime, having a £72m-rated keeper ready and waiting in the wings is far from the worst problem to have.