Some day, in some distant future, between now and when the Sun turns into a red giant and destroys the Earth (so that’s about a five billion year window), a dusty historian will be digging into the arcana of the extinct sport of football. Somewhere along the line, she’s going to ask herself why defending Premier League champions Chelsea FC extended the contract of a 36-year-old goalkeeper who had only played in eight matches for them. (She’s a very thorough researcher, leaving no detail behind.)
As she sifts through the shattered records that survived the ages, she may come across comments posted on the official Chelsea website by said goalkeeper. One short read later, the scales will fall from her eyes. For everything she could possibly want to know about the inimitable Willy Caballero, King of the Penalties, Ruler of the Andals and the Blue Men, First of His Name, is contained within.
His reputation for being good in the dressing room, a man who’s content, despite riding the bench week after week? Check.
“‘To compete with great goalkeepers like Joe Hart, Claudio Bravo and Thibaut Courtois has made me stronger and a better goalkeeper. Some keepers find this position uncomfortable, but I have been working really hard to achieve the level of this kind of keeper, and I feel stronger and better today.
“If I just went to training and passed the days and weeks, this kind of easy position is not good for me. I have always fought to play and I try to do that with Thibaut every single day, and for this I have achieved a lot of good performance in the last few years.
“I enjoy playing not just because it’s a cup, but because it’s a great achievement for me to be in a big team. Playing in the Carabao Cup, the FA Cup, the Premier League, every game is very important for me. To have this kind of opportunity after long years of fighting for this, I feel blessed. I try to enjoy every game and try to do my best to help the team.”
His performances in those cup games? Check.
“For me and the team, we have good memories and moments. One of these for me was the Norwich replay which I remember a lot. We went through by penalty shoot-out and in the last two or three years I have had good experiences in penalties. In this case you need a bit of luck to go through and we did it.
“At Leicester we did another very good job as well. We have done pretty well in the FA Cup so far and we have to keep on this way.”
Did someone say penalty shoot-out? Testify, Nelson Oliviera!
Last season, backup goalkeeper Asmir Begovic gave way to Thibaut Courtois in the last three rounds of Chelsea’s run to the FA Cup Final. But so far Antonio Conte has stuck with Willy Caballero, despite his occasional eccentricities. The man embraces the pressure and the expectations.
“Every time I walk around Cobham I see a lot of pictures of the team winning trophies, so for this we have the obligation and ambition to go for it. To finish the season playing a final and winning a trophy means we can finish well. The most important is to win again and put the name of our club on top again.”
Good attitude? Big game performer? Embraces Chelsea’s ambitions? Check, check, check. A hat-trick of checks.
And speaking of hat-tricks, last time Caballero was in a Cup final, he saved three Liverpool penalties in a row as Manchester City won the League Cup.
The veteran goalkeeper now heads back to Wembley, with more potential trophies on the line. Whether Conte chooses to stick with him or not, he certainly gets what it means Chelsea chose to stick with a man who’s very close to the end of his professional career. He gets it.
“This is a very important game after what we’ve done in the other competitions this season. We have to play it as a final. We are happy because all of our supporters are going to be at Wembley, but the most important thing is to ride to the final and win another trophy.
“We have more pressure because we are Chelsea. The only way is to play very concentrated like it’s a final, and not think about the other sides.
“We want to go to Wembley just to play a game; we have to go to Wembley to win trophies, and the way to do that is by winning this game first.”
-Willy Caballero; source: Chelsea FC
And if it comes down to penalties? Check this one out, historian of the future.