Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga has given his account of just what happened during that incident in the 2019 League Cup final against Manchester City, when he appeared to reject being substituted despite manager Maurizio Sarri calling him to the bench.
Kepa, who had been receiving treatment from the Chelsea physios, was marked for substitution by Sarri with the game goalless in the dying embers of extra time, with backup keeper and penalty specialist Willy Caballero set to come on as his replacement.
However, Kepa defied his manager, signalling to the bench that he had no intention of coming off, leading to bizarre scenes that culminated with Sarri almost storming off down the Wembley tunnel.
The incident became worldwide news. Kepa’s actions sparked debates about the limits of ‘player power’, despite Sarri himself trying to play it down after the cup final – which Chelsea ultimately lost on penalties.
Kepa, who was dropped for the next game and fined, has largely struggled for form at Chelsea since and was replaced as first-choice keeper by Edouard Mendy last season.
Writing about his career journey for The Players’ Tribune, Kepa discussed the whole affair at length from his own perspective, which he describes as a ‘big misunderstanding’.
The Spanish keeper admitted he was simply trying to waste time by calling for the physios during extra time and wasn’t really hurt at all – something Sarri, seemingly, did not get.
Kepa writes: “Manchester City were dominating the game in extra time and there was barely any time left until penalties. After making a save, I felt something in my leg and I called for the physio to make sure it was nothing. Above all, though, I wanted to make sure that we as a team could catch our breath.
“Suddenly, I saw that the coach, Maurizio Sarri, had sent Willy Caballero to warm up. He thought I couldn’t go on. My intention, right or wrong, had only been to waste time to help the team. I didn’t have any serious problem that was going to keep me from continuing to play.
“I tried to signal that I was O.K., that I wasn’t injured. But we were at Wembley in front of more than 80,000 people, so of course Sarri didn’t understand me. When the fourth official raised the board, clearly I should have come off, and I’m sorry I didn’t.
“I was wrong, and I am sorry for everyone who was involved: for Maurizio Sarri, who it seemed like I had undermined in public; for Willy, a teammate and a great professional; and for all my teammates and Chelsea fans who had to put up with everything — all the noise that was generated during the game and then in the days after.”
Kepa also described the fallout from the final, insisting that while ‘inside the club it was no big deal’, outside it became hard to handle.
He continues: “When I picked up my phone in the dressing room after the League Cup final, I realised that I had become worldwide news. For the next three or four days it didn’t stop. It was overwhelming.”
Kepa also addressed his slide in form during the last two seasons as he continued to be impacted by negative coverage and abuse online.
“Little by little, I lost confidence and ended up making some mistakes. I understood the criticism, of course. We play under pressure, and it is part of the job to deal with negative coverage. But sometimes it goes too far. It is O.K. to say that a player has made a mistake, but when you only go out to hurt someone, or write lies that have nothing to do with football, you cross a line,” he added.
“When your family and friends read horrible things that are said about you, it affects them, and so, indirectly, it affects you too. In the end, we are just people trying to do our jobs as best we can.”
Read the full article on The Players Tribune