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Can Chelsea make sense of the Kepa substitution row?

Thursday 28th February 2019
The Blues keeper pays a price for his action but is all the blame justified?
The Blues keeper pays a price for his action but is all the blame justified?

Kepa Arrizabalaga stunned the football world when he refused to be substituted in extra time's final minutes during the League Cup final between Chelsea and Manchester City. For a club under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons recently, further negativity was unnecessary. Yet, that's exactly what the goalkeeper's behaviour brought when under-fire manager Maurizio Sarri fumed at his goalkeeper's apparent disobedience.

Kepa isn't one to act out. So why now? Mainstream and social media went into overdrive after the incident. Different people have their take on the matter, including of course, Jose Mourinho. The majority believe the player undermined his manager's authority and deserved severe punishment.

The club fined the 24-year-old for his actions. He did not start Chelsea's Wednesday night victory over Tottenham in which Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris became the suspect between the sticks. Many called for Kepa's suspension from the first team to prevent the incident from setting a dangerous precedent. In a world where player power is on the rise, they say, such cases should be dealt with decisively. Inter's handling of Mauro Icardi is more in line with such thinking.

What most ignore, however, is there was really nothing to this other than the keeper believing his manager thought he was injured when he was in fact playing for time. After going down twice in quick succession and waiting for the medical team to enter the pitch, it was understandable that Sarri wanted a fit keeper manning the goal for penalties. Whether the physios clearly communicated with the manager to reassure him and Sarri decided he wanted to make a tactical substitution is unclear. The story changed from one day to the next. For his part, Kepa's emotional reaction when Sarri insisted he come off was immature but not intended to flout the Italian's authority.

In his post-match interviews, Sarri said he didn't communicate with the physios at first. The next day he said he wanted to insert his veteran backup, knowing Caballero had better numbers in penalty situations than the youngster. Wherever the truth lies, the manager didn't anticipate a need to communicate his rationale for the substitution. As the final authority during a match, it isn't customary for him to justify his actions to a player. No gaffer anticipates his orders will be disobeyed. Kepa's inexperience led him to believe his manager was acting without the correct information. Both were trying to further the same cause, a Chelsea victory.

Another Blues player taking the right message from the goalkeeper to the manager and back could have solved the problem quite easily. David Luiz has said that on his own initiative he told Kepa to leave the pitch, but neither player thought to have the Brazilian act as a messenger.

Kepa bears blame for losing his temper but it is more understandable for him to do so than his 60-year-old boss. Sarri went off the deep end as well. He very nearly left the ground. As the manager, he knows he must remain composed. His reaction unsettled the team more so than Kepa's. His immaturity cost him his first trophy.

There was blame on both sides but the bottom line is the entire situation was blown out of proportion. 

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Emmanuel Odey

Emmanuel is a freelance football journalist who lives and breathes the round leather game. He is a contributor on several platforms. You can follow him on Twitter for more.

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