Kepa Arrizabalaga is one of Spain’s youngest and most talented goalkeepers and arguably one of the top three goalkeepers in the world. Maybe it was his youth and high profile that led him, in a recent game, to disobey his coach, refusing to leave the pitch after he was called off for a substitution–a brazen and rare act of defiance that shocked the crowd.
It was the climax of a tense game in the Carabao Cup final. when their team Chelsea played against Manchester City on February 24. Kepa had been experiencing some hamstring pain in his left leg, and near the end, Maurizio Sarri who is the coach of the team called on the team’s backup goalkeeper Willy Caballero to suit up because he would be replacing Kepa. Caballero was all dressed and ready to go in when Kepa motioned and pleaded desperately over to the sideline signalling to the coach that he would be okay and wanted to finish the game. Sarri was not happy. He yelled at Kepa from the sidelines but Kepa refused to leave the pitch. The argument between the coach and the player lasted a couple of minutes before Sarri had had enough of the player disrespecting his word and stormed off down the players tunnel to take a breather. They wound up losing in the shootout.
Although insubordination like this is rare, it has happened before. In 2017, goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski was hurt in the 81st minute of a match against Tottenham. Fabianski was on the ground for several minutes clutching his ribs until a stretcher appeared to carry him off the field. When Fabianski saw the stretcher he instantly got up and passionately told the coach that he was okay even though they were ready for a substitution. Paul Clement, again in this situation was mad but revoked the substitution and let the game progress, and it was only in the last few minutes when Fabianski let in three unanswered goals as his team was defeated 3-1 in this very important match. Fabianski was forced to apologize to his teammates and coaches for his actions and was later fined a week’s pay.
This same scenario happened in September 2011, but with even worse consequences. Carlos Tevez a striker for Manchester City had been complaining all match of an injury. When the coach finally heard enough he decided to substitute him in the last fifteen minutes of the match. Tevez refused the substitution and wanted to finish the game, which the coach was livid about. This incident caused a standoff between the manager and player for weeks until the player was banished from the club for five months of the club’s game action until the start of the playoffs for the Premier League title that year.
And in last summer’s world cup a midfielder for Croatia by the name of Nikola Kalinic refused to come off in the last twenty minutes of a group match versus Nigeria. Dalic, the Croatian manager was trying to sub on a younger player with fresh legs but Kalinic was having none of it. After the match Kalinic was dropped from the squad and sent back home, Croatia ended up going to the World Cup Final without him.
In all of these cases, the players who refused to follow their coaches orders experienced injuries mid game and wanted to play through them despite their coach’s calls.
Kepa is a fantastic goalkeeper with a lot of high-end skill, but he knew his actions were wrong and caused a lot of stress on the manager. This incident has most definitely impacted Sarri’s confidence in making decisions for the team going forward, but he will remain the team’s manager.
After the match Kepa apologized for his actions on the field and said he and his teammates have full confidence in Sarri’s decision making, amid rumours of Sarri not being taken seriously at the club. A few days later Kepa was fined a week’s pay and was stripped the start for Chelsea’s next match. Considering some of the punishments other players have received for this kind of action, it looks like Kepa got off easy.