Real Madrid’s first foray into the January transfer market will be to snap up Athletic Bilbao’s promising goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, Madrid-based sports daily Marca reported on Monday.
Arrizabalaga’s contract expires in June, meaning he could leave Bilbao for free at the end of the season.
However, Real Madrid plans on beating any competition to the 23-year-old’s signature by paying his 20 million euro ($23.5 million) buyout clause.
“When the winter window opens, [Madrid] will pay the 20 million buyout clause to evade the risk that [Arrizabalaga] is punished for not renewing his contract by not playing and loses the chance to go to the World Cup in Russia,” said Marca’s report.
Arrizabalaga, 23, is understudy to Manchester United’s David de Gea for Spain and made his senior international debut in November’s 5-0 friendly win over Costa Rica.
“We will try everything possible so that Kepa stays here, but shortly there will be a definitive decision,” Athletic president Josu Urrutia told Movistar TV as Arrizabalaga shut out Madrid in a 0-0 draw in Bilbao last weekend.
Madrid famously missed out on the signing of De Gea after failing to register their transfer agreement with United in time on the final day of the transfer window in August 2015.
De Gea was seen then as the long-term replacement to club legend Iker Casillas, but with Costa Rican keeper Keylor Navas in goal, Madrid has won the Champions League in each of the last two seasons.
Navas, though, has missed 10 matches due to injury already this season and neither he, nor second choice ‘keeper Kiko Casilla have convinced in a poor start to the season for Madrid, which trails Barcelona by eight points at the top of La Liga.