Sunday, February 24, 2019

Kepa's Last Stand

THE CHELSEA GOALKEEPER'S DEFIANCE WAS A SAD DAY FOR FOOTBALL

It was the most unexpected spectacle.

THE CHELSEA GOALKEEPER'S DEFIANCE WAS A SAD DAY FOR FOOTBALL


An otherwise lethargic League Cup Final sprung unexpectedly into life when Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga refused to leave the field while being substituted at the end of extra-time.

Nobody watching could recall from their years of watching the game, a player refuse outright to go off when substituted. Kepa's refusal to leave the field will go down in football history.
As penalty specialist Willy Caballero waited patiently on the touchline to replace the Spaniard and take on his former Manchester City teammates from 12 yards, Kepa gestured angrily towards the bench, shouting "No!" repeatedly at his manager Maurizio Sarri and assistant Gianfranco Zola.

As Kepa kept his ground and refused point-blank to budge, an exasperated Sarri almost walked out of Wembley, sensationally.

Kepa then saved one City spot-kick but teammates Jorginho and David Luiz missed theirs, handing the Cup to Pep Guardiola's side, an almost forgotten footnote in the aftermath.

So in failing to make way for Caballero, Kepa had made a rod for his own back should Chelsea have gone on to lose the shootout. In disobeying orders, he only piled more pressure onto his already beleaguered manager, whose authority was already in ubiquitous question.

Only recently Sarri had lamented his players were proving difficult to motivate and today they failed him by not rushing to urge Kepa to leave the field and back their boss in the process.

Luiz was the only colleague who spoke to his goalkeeper during his two minutes of madness; skipper Cesar Azpilicueta was nowhere to be seen.

Any manager will tell you that the loneliest and lowest feeling is when they feel they have lost the dressing room.

The referee spoke to both parties but could do little as the rules dictate a player can refuse to come off.

Post match Kepa and Sarri insisted it was all a misunderstanding of a couple of incidents of cramp in the lead-up to the substitution, but caught on camera with millions watching, the footballer's defiance of his manager, whatever was the motive behind the change, was plain to see.

It cannot be right when hierarchical control disintegrates unless that rule is particularly unfair and counterproductive, but Sarri was perfectly within his rights to substitute Kepa.

Moreover, English football uses the word manager for what most languages call a coach or trainer for a reason and so when that authority is undermined, a team cannot be directed anymore.

Since no organisation can function without a chain of command and universal acceptance of the rules. Kepa's blatant disobeying of his boss must not go unpunished.

The 24 year-old's future at Stamford Bridge looks in question all of a sudden, but Sarri will probably walk the plank first.

Despite grabbing a sack of trophies in the last decade including the Champions League and Europa League, Chelsea are a ship adrift in early 2019.

The Blues seem unable to keep a manager respected for more than a season, have seen an ambitious stadium redevelopment stalled and are set to lose their best player Eden Hazard to Real Madrid in the summer.

Days before the final, FIFA announced a two-window transfer ban to make matters worse as punishment for signing underage players.

Their current manager is stuck in a rut and gloom is enveloping his reign in only its first season but the club has ridden a merry-go-round of coaches in recent seasons.

Perhaps worst of all is their current form - four defeats in seven games has unsurprisingly seen the side slip down to sixth spot and in real danger of missing out on the Champions League next season.

For a club which a decade ago looked like dominating European club competition for some time, this is suddenly becoming a dark chapter in Chelsea's history.

Player power saw Sarri's predecessors Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte leave their jobs prematurely and it looks like claiming a third victim.

If Chelsea are looking for a cure for their latest malaise, they could start by stopping the children from running the school.



(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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