“Hey Siri, out of all the football matches I’ve seen in my life, show me something I’ve never seen before,” read a viral tweet after Sunday’s League Cup final. If you did indeed say this to your iPhone, what happened in the last minute of extra time of the Carabao Cup final between Chelsea and Manchester City would surely be its very first suggestion.
Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga went down with cramp twice in extra time as the likelihood of a penalty shootout deciding a drab game grew ever closer. Yes, a goalkeeper somehow managed to have cramp. Maurizio Sarri rightly prepared to send on his substitute keeper Willy Caballero and Kepa’s number was up. No goalkeeper should go into a penalty shootout in a cup final while struggling with injury.
Kepa’s refusal to come off in defiance of his manager – and that’s what it was despite how he and Chelsea have tried to spin the situation with PR guff – was staggeringly offensive and arrogant. A player decided he knew better than the medical team and manager. Kepa was so eager to be the hero in the shootout that he put his own wishes before the team’s chances of winning. Sarri was humiliated and rightfully incandescent with rage.
As he threw down his water bottle and stormed off down the Wembley tunnel, who could have blamed him if he got the first flight out of London and never came back? Kepa’s stance to disregard his manager was just another example of the despicable way Sarri has been treated since he arrived in the Premier League.
The worst-kept secret in football was that Sarri was to become Chelsea’s next manager last summer yet he was only appointed three weeks before the start of the season. Antonio Conte actually took the first weeks of pre-season training despite everyone knowing his time was up. Thrown in to implement his own brand of football on a group of players resistant to change was always going to be tough, particularly with so many returning late from the World Cup
Last week Chelsea were given a transfer ban that will render them unable register a new signing until summer 2020. With 41 players out on loan, one suspects they will still be able to field a side. Eden Hazard looks unlikely to stay at the club, while senior players David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Olivier Giroud are all out of contract in June. with the owner unable to get into the country, turbulent times lie ahead for Chelsea.
Sarri is the right man to steer Chelsea through this difficult period with his determination to improve what he has available to him. He has said he is not interested in making signings. “I decided to focus on the pitch, on matches and training… It’s better if I spend all my mental energies on the pitch.” It is just a shame that the board, fans and the disrespectful players mean that his Chelsea career will end prematurely and unsuccessfully.