SO what if he’s the world’s most expensive goalkeeper at a record price of £71million.
But what this ‘mega-donna’ did in the final minutes of Sunday’s Carabao Cup final at Wembley was simply disgusting as he adamantly refused to be substituted after he was hit by late cramps.
Never in my four decades of sports journalism have I ever witnessed such disgracefully unsporting scenes as Chelsea’s Spanish goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga (right) took the law into his own hands and challenged his manager Maurizio Saari (left) late in extra-time.
Unbelievably, the television cameras, and billions of football fans the world over, focused on these pathetic scenes as even referee Jonathan Moss intervened, not knowing what to do. By the rule of football law, if you’re substituted, you simply leave the field of play. But this goalkeeper defied sporting science!
I kept shaking my head many times, wondering: Have you ever seen anything like it? A player refusing to go off – and his manager losing the plot.
SHOOTOUT WIN FOR MANCHESTER CITY
The match ended 0-0 after extra-time but Chelsea lost 4-3 on penalty-kicks although the goalkeeper heroically saved Leroy Sane’s spot kick – bringing out a fist pump from Sarri – but Raheem Sterling netted the winning penalty as Manchester City were crowned Carabao Cup champions for a second year running with a shootout win.
Let’s go back to the dramatic scenes: Arrizabalaga had just been treated for cramp and Sarri was preparing to bring on reserve keeper Willy Caballero in his place ahead of a penalty shootout. But after some furious finger-wagging and screams of “NO!”, Sarri was forced to give in.
Referee Jonathan Moss ran over to confirm whether Arrizabalaga was going off or not and Sarri, begrudgingly backed down before storming off down the tunnel before returning, leaving Caballero a bemused spectator.
Former Singapore award-winning coach Jita Singh, who strictly believes in player-and-team discipline, described the scenes as “mutiny at Chelsea” and adamantly feels Arrizabalaga “should never play for the club again”.
“That should be his last performance in a Chelsea shirt, even if he’s the world’s most expensive goalkeeper. He’s a disgrace. I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Jita, who at 31 years won the Malaysia Cup in 1981 and was decorated with the SNOC ‘Coach of the Year’ award.
Jita adds without compromise: “If I was (manager) Sarri I would walk. You cannot be undermined. Why weren’t the players dragging Kepa off anyway? Kepa should be sacked, not Sarri. He’s been clearly undermined – it’s the worst thing that can happen to a world-class manager.”
‘LACK OF RESPECT’
Singapore’s longest-serving Malaysia Cup goalkeeper David Lee says it’s clear “there’s a lack of respect” for the manager, but said Sarri showed “a lack of class” by storming off the pitch following defeat.
“To be honest, Chelsea played very well. His players have done him proud today,” says Lee, who wore the No 1 jersey for two decades from 1976 to 1996. “They are an inferior team to Manchester City and they took them all the way. Kepa’s act was just unforgivable. This is a huge blemish. It all boils down to what is going on between Sarri and his players. That does not happen – there’s clearly a lack of respect somewhere along the line.”
Rather politely after calming down, the Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri says the incident involving goalkeeper was a “misunderstanding”. He explains: “I misunderstood the problem and only realised the situation when the doctor arrived at the bench.
“He understood I asked for a change for his physical problem. He said, ‘I haven’t a physical problem’ – and he was right.”
The 24-year-old goalkeeper was also remorseful and later echoed his manager’s words and insisted the incident was caused by “confusion”. He says: “It was misunderstood. In no moment was it my intention to disobey, or anything like that with the boss. It was two or three minutes of confusion until the medics got to the bench and they explained everything well.
“He thought I couldn’t continue, and – fundamentally – I was trying to say that physically I was fine.”
Poor ex-Napoli manager Sarri. He has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks, following a 6-0 defeat to Manchester City in the Premier League and an FA Cup exit at the hands of Manchester United. Yet despite doubts over his futuee, Chelsea produced a resolute performance in Sunday’s final as Sarri demonstrated a back-up plan to his ‘Sarri-ball’ philosophy.
“Here I am very happy and in the last three matches we are improving and have improved a lot,” says Sarri. “Today showed everyone we could be a very solid team because we conceded nothing to the opponents, and to Manchester City that is not easy.
“I’m proud of the players. I think the club would be proud of that performance too, because the performance was very good against, in my opinion, the best club in Europe.”
In my opinion, as a sports journalist of over four decades, this manager-goalkeeper incident is simply disgraceful. In a nutshell, it was an ugly rebellion that exposed all the fractures in Sarri’s Chelsea regime – and was a new one even on those of us who have travelled the world and seen most things the game has to offer, good and bad.
Let us be reminded that Chelsea’s loss is almost a side issue to the questions raised by Arrizabalaga’s behaviour and the damage this has done to Sarri inside his own dressing room and even higher up inside Stamford Bridge.
To the younger generation players and club coaches, I say this, without fear of favour: Learn to be respectful in football. Obedience is a priceless commodity in life and there must be civility and courtesy in honourable football.
The first fault lies with the player – if you are told you are being substituted, you go off. You may not like it but you go off.
Whether you’re in Singapore or Spain, India or Iceland, Japan or Jamaica, Sunday’s Wembley incident remains a very painful, public indignity and will surely have been noted in red ink in Chelsea’s corridors of power.
The problem for Sarri, and the matter that will trouble owner Roman Abramovich and Chelsea’s decision-makers, is that this unseemly episode made the Italian look weak, indecisive and, for all the conciliatory noises made afterwards, lacking in control at a time when he needs to reassert himself.
And, in my opinion, for all the talk of breakdowns in communication, attempts at damage control only confirm the utter shambles that was unfolding on and off the pitch.
Kepa’s reaction was that of a teenager being told to turn off his bedroom light, and the incident developed into one of those father-son moments in which nobody is prepared to back down.
Put it all together and you are confronted with one of the most disgraceful scenes in professional football.
I pray respect always prevail and common-sense gets to the head of every player, regardless of whether you’re the most expensive football goalkeeper in the world.