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Willy Caballero talks Kepa, Kanté, and football in a pandemic

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Big Willy at the mic

Chelsea FC v Liverpool FC - FA Cup Fifth Round Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Fresh off signing a one-year extension with Chelsea, which will mark Caballero’s fourth consecutive season at the club, the 38-year-old spoke extensively to 90min about his decision to extend his stay in London, the mentality of the players returning (or not returning) to training, as well as his opinion on Kepa’s season so far.

Talking about his will to make the most of his new contract, Caballero lays out the reasons for his stay with the club for another year and sets his targets for the rest of the season and the next one.

“My idea was to continue at a great club, it was what I most wanted and luckily it was fulfilled. Obviously I want to play and add minutes [and] this year I’ve gotten a few turns. I feel like I took maximum advantage of them, and that led me to consolidate within the team as an experienced player.

“I feel highly valued in the group and I think that was important for Chelsea to give me the opportunity to continue. I would love for us to qualify for the next Champions League and finish as FA Cup champions.”

Caballero managed to bench club-record signing Kepa Arrizabalaga deep into the season after a string of inconsistent displays from the younger goalkeeper — both in terms of shot-stopping and ball distribution.

While Lampard’s agressive tactics and Chelsea’s poor defending have played a role in those struggles as well, Kepa’s not been performing up to the level expected. But Caballero knows that his role in supporting his teammate is just as important as stepping in for him, if not more so. Much of the same will be expected next season as well.

“It seems to me that this year did not go as well [for Kepa], just as for the rest of the defense, and that is why I think he is criticized. Being the most expensive goalkeeper in recent years, he is criticized much more. I know the comments hurt, but he’s going to have to live with it because it’s hard to be in Chelsea’s goal and have to do a good job every week.”

Kepa was seemingly coming back into form just before the pandemic, but no one knows how well any of the players can come back after almost three months off.

And some won’t even be back.

N’Golo Kanté was allowed to take compassionate leave by the club, for example, due to his concerns about “Project Restart”, and he’s probably set to miss at least the rest of this season as well.

Those concerns only add to the general concerns about fitness and injuries.

“Not only did N’Golo make that decision, but several players from other teams did the same. All decisions are understandable when expressed by how they have lived through this pandemic.

“Many do not want to return until they feel guarantees and security. I believe that in this phase 1, the risk of contagion is very low and that is why we feel very confident. Beyond everything, the entire campus supports what Kanté did.

“We need a minimum of three weeks of preparation to get back physically well. When we have vacations, we usually have a month to get back in shape and now we have been standing inside our houses for two months. It is a physical and mental challenge for all players.”

It’s certainly an unprecedented situation and not even a player as experienced as Caballero has seen anything like it.

It’s easy to lose hope and despair, but we must trust that eventually things will return to some semblance of normalcy. Taking things one day at a time can be useful, but so can setting a (longer-term) goals and projects.

“If you don’t see the later you lose track of time. At my age, I have been looking into the future for many years and thinking that at some point this will end. Luckily I have the opportunity to continue next season, but I’m already preparing. I would like to be a goalkeeper coach or help in a coaching staff to start preparing well.”

- Willy Caballero; source: 90min (via Google translate)

Future Chelsea goalkeeper coach Big Willy!