Maurizio Sarri tried to explain his furious reaction to Kepa Arrizabalaga’s infamous non-substitution at Wembley as a “big misunderstanding”, and insisted that he is still “fully in control of the situation” as Chelsea manager.
Sarri could barely contain his anger late in extra-time when he signalled for Kepa, struggling with cramp, to be replaced by Willy Caballero, only for the Spanish youngster to decide to stay on the pitch regardless. It looked like an unprecedented repudiation of a manger’s authority, especially given Sarri’s reaction to it. And yet when Sarri gave his post-match press conference sometime later, he tried to explain the row as a breakdown in communication, rather than a collapse in his authority.
While Sarri did say that Kepa was “wrong in the way he conducted himself”, he was not as critical as expected of a player who had appeared to undermine his management by disobeying his instructions. This was a very different Sarri from the man who nearly stormed down the tunnel in disgust at the time. And he accepted some blame himself for not knowing the reality of Kepa’s injury at the start.
“It was a big misunderstanding,” said Sarri. “I understood he had cramp, so I didn't want the goalkeeper to go to the penalties in that physical condition. I wanted Caballero on the pitch, but the goalkeeper [Kepa] wanted to let me know he was in condition to go to the penalties. I realised the situation after three or four minutes, when the doctor arrived to the bench. It was only a big misunderstanding.”
Sarri’s mild criticism of Kepa was at odds with his furious reaction at the time when the substitution did not happen, although he admitted that he was “really angry” before he had spoken to the doctor. The Italian manager said that he would speak to Kepa afterwards, but said nothing about potential disciplinary action against the errant goalkeeper. “I want to talk to him because he needs to understand that, from a misunderstanding, we can [get] into trouble. Especially with you [the media]. So I think I have only to explain exactly the situation to Kepa. Without any other problem.”
“Kepa was right, but in the wrong way,” Sarri said. “Wrong in the way he conducted himself, but mentally he was right because he was able to go to the penalties. But I realised everything only when the doctor arrived on the bench. Not before.”
When asked about the survival of his authority, Sarri insisted that despite appearances he was still “fully in control” as Chelsea manager. Because the players had faithfully executed his tactical plan, pressing less high than normal, and that it had almost worked. “If you saw the match, you can understand very well that, today, the players played exactly the match we prepared yesterday,” Sarri said. “So I think I am in control, fully in control of the situation. So now I'd like to speak about something else.”
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