Did John Terry just game the Chelsea propaganda machine?
Background photo: Debs, CC BY-SA 2.0
Humans are hierarchal. We need leaders even if it’s only to tear them down. At the same time that we criticise leaders, we expect others within an organization to follow the chain of command. That is why Kepa Arrizabalaga’s behaviour in the EFL Cup final shocked football fans.
If you missed it, the £71.6 million goalkeeper refused to be substituted with the match approaching penalties and after trainers twice came out to treat a leg injury in the dying minutes of extra time. Players often protest substitutions but when the manager insists, they come off the field before prolonging any argument. Kepa did not come off the field. He held his ground, gesticulating and shouting in what can only be described as a disrespectful, insubordinate manner.
Eventually, manager Maurizio Sarri backed down. It was an amazing sight in a match during which he had shut up critics who called his tactics inflexible. He did so by by shutting down Europe’s top-scoring side for 120+ minutes just a fortnight after Manchester City humiliated his squad 6-0 at the Etihad. Thanks to Kepa, however, any authority he might have gained with his exemplary response went in the trash with all those Manchester City 4-2 [50/1] betting tickets.
Over the course of the Wembley final, Sarri had his tactics perfect. There were no embarrassing tap-ins available for City as there were in the previous meeting. All the defending Premier League champions' attempts were half-chances from distance save for one late touchline run from Raheem Sterling that came to nought.
Sarri had his tactics spot-on in summoning Willy Caballero to take the penalty kicks as well. Forget that Kepa was favouring one leg just before City would be granted five unhindered shots on goal. Instead, remember when Louis van Gaal substituted Jasper Cillesson in the 120th minute so that Tim Krul could defend the penalties against Costa Rica in the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals.
Krul was statistically better than Cillessen and the gamble paid off. Van Gaal chose not to roll the dice a second time in the semifinal. Argentina’s Sergio Romero bettered Cillesson in that penalty shootout, sending La Albiceleste to the final.
If Kepa hadn’t required treatment at all in the League Cup final, Sarri could have played the odds by inserting Caballero to take the penalties. The Argentine’s career mark is nearly ten per cent better than the Spaniard’s in this category.
In the moment, Sarri’s concern was Kepa’s health rather than playing the numbers. The point here is that a change was a better option than the Italian realised.
Kepa’s selfishness may have cost Chelsea a trophy and prevented a sea change in this season’s Premier League dynamic. What might a Manchester City defeat have done to their mindset in the title chase? What hope might it have given their upcoming opponents? We can’t ever know but the possibilities make the 24-year-old’s tantrum the most significant moment in the Premier League season to this point.
When such a negative event befalls any organization, politics demand damage control. You won’t find much if anything on Chelsea’s website regarding the incident. The official party line is the manager delivered a tactical masterclass but the team was unlucky in the penalty lottery.
Insofar as it goes, that is the truth. It just ignores the fact that Kepa is now not just an elephant in the Stamford Bridge clubhouse but a mastodon. As part of their spin, Chelsea enlisted former captain John Terry. The legendary defender was at the match in a commentary role. The club interviewed him for a propaganda piece about everything that is right with the club going forward. Excellent performances from the match were mentioned. Kepa was not.
Even so, Terry did more to address the situation than current Blues captain, Cesar Azpilicueta, who told curious reporters he hadn’t seen the incident because he “was on the other side of the pitch”.
Azpilicueta is a right back. He wasn’t so far from his keeper that he couldn’t see his gesticulations or hear his shouts. Nor are his eyes so bad that he would fail to see Caballero in a bright yellow kit standing on the touchline next to the fourth official, Paul Tierney, who was holding up an LED board with both keepers’ numbers flashing. His inaction and denial of any knowledge of the incident abdicate leadership.
While trying to toe the club line by maintaining a positive attitude, Terry invited fans to read between the lines when giving a statement on the match.
Anyone with half a brain can see ‘individually’ is the key word in that sentence. Leadership and sense of team are the two qualities the Blues have lost since Terry’s time with the club. Upon arriving, Sarri marginalised Gary Cahill, Terry's hand-groomed successor. The embattled boss now reaps the consequences of appointing a replacement unwilling to take initiative in a crisis.
Terry is right on almost every count. Chelsea can move forward. They are a great side which possesses brilliant individuals. Only at the end, does he stray from the truth. They are a team in name only.
The interesting question is whether the former skipper and aspiring manager's remark was just a Freudian slip or did John Terry deliberately send a subliminal message to supporters that the club hierarchy must restore the discipline and leadership that once made them Premier League champions? His discipline. His leadership.