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Caballero: Tuchel was willing to bring me on in the Champions League final to face penalties

8:00 AM WAT 21/08/2021
Willy Caballero main image
The veteran goalkeeper reveals life behind the scenes in the Blues goalkeeper group and under the German coach

Willy Caballero went wild celebrating at home in Malaga as Thomas Tuchel's goalkeeping plan came to fruition in Chelsea's Super Cup final win.

From the outside, it looked like a maverick move from the Blues manager to substitute No.1 Edouard Mendy for Kepa Arrizabalaga in extra-time against Villarreal.

Yet it was all part of the master plan. Analysts and the goalkeeping department at Cobham had identified a penalty pecking order that Tuchel had taken on board.

Shortly after he took charge, Tuchel flipped his goalkeeping group for penalties - making Caballero first choice, Kepa second and Mendy in third.

So wedded to the idea was Tuchel, that he was even willing to make the decision for the Champions League final against Manchester City. It would have meant Caballero facing his former club in the biggest match of them all.

"He did that in the Super Cup because Kepa was better at saving penalties than Edou," the now out-of-contract Caballero told Goal in an exclusive interview. "It’s incredible because ahead of Manchester City [in the Champions League final], he watched all the penalties that were being executed during training with the scouts of Chelsea.

"He considered an opportunity for me to be in the penalty shootout if that situation arrived in the final. He thought my emotion of being a Man City player before would also help.

"Because of this, he thought I might be a bit ahead of Kepa. He told me in this match that I would be the option.

"So I was watching the Super Cup, because I am a Chelsea fan supporting my friends, I said to my wife that Kepa is coming on soon.

"I was right and I was happy for Kepa because last season was tough for him. He missed the Euros but he saved the penalty and Chelsea won. The two of them showed an example for goalkeepers everywhere."

Tuchel confirmed Caballero's comments after the Villarreal game: "Willy Caballero is the best in penalty defending and they analysed a thousand penalties from Willy."

Chelsea signed Mendy for £22 million ($29m) from Rennes, adding him to their ranks alongside Caballero and the world's most expensive goalkeeper Kepa.

Mendy went onto keep nine clean sheets in 12 Champions League matches - a record-breaking feat for a goalkeeper at an English club. However, despite not making his complaints public, Caballero was unhappy at becoming a third-choice goalkeeper having previously been jostling for starts with Kepa.

"Some people didn’t understand why I turned down a contract as a third goalkeeper," he said. "I believe I am playing at this age because I have always been motivated.

"As a third goalkeeper last season, I found it really tough. It was my first season as a third-choice goalkeeper. I was losing my motivation at Chelsea. I believe for this reason to not renew with Chelsea, to try to find a new challenge to keep that passion alive inside."

Still, Caballero was in awe of Tuchel's impact and man-management skills in the last six months of last season: "I think a lot of the guys didn’t expect the season to end in such a big success.

"We started with [Frank] Lampard and finished with Tuchel. At the start of the journey, we weren’t so strong. [Tuchel] always was optimistic, positive and his explanations to every player was perfect.

"He also has a very good group of staff. His staff works really well and they are close with the players and talking with them. The players were happy going to training and this can be difficult in a big, big club. You can spend the season playing or not playing; you could miss your targets and it becomes tough."

At 39, Caballero hopes to follow in the footsteps of the Italy legend Gianluigi Buffon and play into his 40s.

Although he is planning on becoming a goalkeeping coach and getting an MBA (a master's in sports finance), he has also had a trial at Brentford and been involved in a Malaga-based training camp for professional footballers who are free agents.

"I had a trial at Brentford for a week. It really helped me keep up my feeling as a player," he said. "I want to keep playing and living football. I am waiting for the new challenge.

"Training at Chelsea with Mendy and Kepa last season was very good. It is a challenge to train with good, young goalkeepers. I feel it was a real achievement to train at their level every week. I know I have just one, two, or three years until the end of my career."

Having been considered by Tuchel for the biggest stage, surely the phone will be ringing for Caballero in these last few weeks of the transfer window.