Watching goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga appearing to struggle with cramp, and with a penalty shootout looming to settle the League Cup final, Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri summoned a substitute from the bench.
Kepa was furious.
Wildly gesticulating with his arms, the world’s most expensive goalkeeper forcefully indicated to Sarri he would be ready to face penalties against Manchester City with the Wembley showpiece locked at 0-0 and extra time about to end.
But Sarri was determined to bring on Willy Caballero, who saved three spot kicks in the 2016 League Cup final while in City’s winning side.
So Kepa, who joined Chelsea in August for 80 million euros (then $93 million), simply would not leave the field.
“It wasn’t that I was refusing to be substituted,” Kepa said later, after being beaten by four penalties in City’s 4-3 victory in the shootout. “It was a way of trying to tell the bench that I was fine.”
But Kepa’s behavior wasn’t fine at all, according to former Chelsea captain John Terry.
“Once your number goes up you have to come off and show a bit of respect,” Terry said in the Sky Sports television studio at Wembley. “Deal with that after.”
Publicly humiliated with his authority undermined, Sarri was furious and initially headed down the tunnel before returning just in time for extra time to end.
In the shootout, Kepa made only one save from Leroy Sane as Raheem Sterling completed the shootout victory to defend City’s title and keep the team in contention for a quadruple.
“In no moment was it my intention to disobey, or anything like that with the boss,” Kepa said. “Just that it was misunderstood because I had been attended to by the medics twice, and he thought that I wasn’t in condition to continue.
“It was two or three minutes of confusion until the medics got to the bench, and they explained everything well.”
After collecting his runners-up medal, Sarri sought to diffuse the controversy.
“It was a big misunderstanding,” Sarri said. “I understood the goalkeeper had cramp and for me he was unable to go to penalties but the problem was not cramp so he was able to go to penalties.”