Football: Real Madrid poised to make first signing of January transfer window in €20m Athletic goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga

Athletic Bilbao's goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga (right) catches a ball thrown during a match of La Liga Santander in Bilbao, Spain on Dec 2, 2017.
Athletic Bilbao's goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga (right) catches a ball thrown during a match of La Liga Santander in Bilbao, Spain on Dec 2, 2017. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MADRID (AFP) - 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 (Dec 11).

Arrizabalaga's contract expires in June meaning he could leave Athletic for free at the end of the season.

However, Real plan on beating any competition to the 23-year-old's signature by paying his €20 million (S$31.8 million) buyout clause.

"When the winter window opens, (Real) 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.

Arrizabalaga, 23, is the understudy to Manchester United's David de Gea for the Spain national team 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 Real in a 0-0 draw in Bilbao last weekend.

The European champions 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 Keylor Navas in goal, Real have 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 goalkeeper Kiko Casilla, have convinced in a poor start to the season for defending Spanish title-holders Real, who trail Barcelona by eight points at the top of LaLiga.