Real Madrid have reportedly decided to trigger the buyout clause of Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga in January, instead of signing the 23-year-old on a free transfer in the summer.
According to AS' Sergio Santos Chozas, Kepa has a buyout clause of €20 million, and his current deal will run out at the end of the season. Contract negotiations with Athletic are going nowhere, and a move seems inevitable.
Both the stopper and Los Blancos would prefer to do business in January, but despite his contract status, the Basque club are unlikely to sell at a reduced fee. Los Leones survive on their youth setup and are notoriously difficult to negotiate with.
While spending big on a player who will be available for free in the near future may seem like poor judgement, it's worth noting Los Blancos are not the only club being linked with Kepa. As shared by ESPN FC's Jonathan Johnson, he's also been mentioned as a possible target for rivals Atletico Madrid:
Jonathan Johnson @Jon_LeGossip
PSG have reportedly received a favourable response from Atletico Madrid re: GK Jan Oblak. Atleti said to be open to a lucrative sale IF they can find a replacement. Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois & Athletic Club's Kepa Arrizabalaga mentioned as potential Atleti targets. https://t.co/IWN1WBer9J
Kepa has long been regarded as a future star and has emerged as Athletic's top starter after returning from loan with Real Valladolid in 2016. He made his first start for Spain in November against Costa Rica and is expected to join the squad in Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Real have a solid goalkeeper of their own in Keylor Navas, but the former Real Sociedad man can run hot and cold at times. When he's on his game, he easily ranks among the world's best, but he also has a tendency to give up easy goals several times per season.
While he's still just 31 years old, Navas' time in the Spanish capital appears to be coming to an end. He will likely battle Kepa for the starting position for a while, but as he still retains plenty of value, Real will want to cash in on the goalkeeper at some point in the near future.
Here's a look at the man who will likely replace him:
If Real decide to trigger Kepa's buyout clause, they will effectively be spending €20 million for half a season's worth of appearances. They will want to push the youngster to the front of the queue immediately and won't bring him along slowly behind their current starter.
The transfer would also seemingly end the speculation regarding Manchester United's David De Gea and Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois, who have both been linked at length with Los Blancos, per Pete Jenson of MailOnline.
Most of the elite clubs in world football are set at the position for the immediate future, and if Kepa joins Real, options for De Gea and Courtois may well be limited.
Paris Saint-Germain could seek an upgrade on Alphonse Areola, and Juventus may decide Wojciech Szczesny isn't good enough to be the long-term successor to Gianluigi Buffon, but neither club may be enough of a step up for either player.