Okay, let’s do one more on this nonsense, because apparently there is a MUTINY on the Bounty, and 24-year-old Fletcher “Kepa” Christian has set adrift his captain William “Sarri” Bligh in a tiny boat on the open ocean of Wembley’s endless green grass. Or something.
Both Sarri and Kepa have called the incident a “big misunderstanding” afterwards, but that hasn’t prevented from the hottest of hot takes raining down on Kepa’s head, Sarri’s control, and the club in general. Everything has to be turned up to eleven in the soap opera of top flight football, after all.
If the Oscars are going without a host, maybe Chelsea should try operating without a coach. This Kepa mutiny astonishing pic.twitter.com/DCLEl9TqtC— roger bennett (@rogbennett) February 24, 2019
But in talking with Sky Sports, Sarri presented a few more details that lend some plausibility to the possibility that this indeed is just one big misunderstanding.
“I have talked to him [Kepa] but only to clarify because now I have understand the situation.
“In that situation there was a big misunderstanding caused by the radio. I understood there was a problem and we needed a change. I didn’t find out until the doctor arrived to the bench after a few minutes.
“It was a big misunderstanding. 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. [Kepa] understood that I asked for a change for his physical problem. He said, ‘I haven’t got a physical problem’, so he was right I think.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Sky via Mirror
If Kepa, playing possibly in the biggest game of his career, believed that the physios were relaying the information to the coach that he was okay to continue, it’s easy to see why he would react the way he did to Sarri’s continued insistence to substitute him off. At the same time, if Sarri, coming so close to winning his first ever major trophy, believed that Kepa was truly injured, it’s easy to see why he would continue to insist on the substitution.
This misunderstanding is then exacerbated by both Kepa’s outright refusal to leave the pitch and Sarri’s own little temper tantrum, where he threatens to basically walk off the job. Cooler heads fortunately prevailed.
To be clear, the reaction isn’t great from either party, but Kepa’s is the more obviously unprofessional one. Sarri’s radio excuse is also undercut by the physios arriving back at the bench around the same time the whole incident truly begins (watch for purple gloves coming into the frame at the start of the clip at the top), though they don’t talk to Sarri directly at all — they presumably do talk to assistant coach Gotti, who then appears to relay this information to Sarri, which then enrages him even more. So there is a chance that Sarri’s rage is mainly about the conflicting information he was receiving, which was making him look like a fool. Add in the heightened emotions of a cup final, and you have a recipe for prime time drama.
Maurizio Sarri - 'Kepa incident was a misunderstanding' pic.twitter.com/LMX1hrONE6— BeanymanSports (@BeanymanSports) February 24, 2019
In any case, what’s done is done. In his post-match comments, Sarri made it clear that he considers Kepa’s conduct inappropriate. In most cases, that will warrant disciplinary action for the player (usually a fine, though his hamstring injury could flare up at a convenient time for an in-house suspension, too). Regardless of whether Kepa was right or wrong, the chain of command must be respected a bit better.
That doesn’t mean the situation is beyond repair; far from it. It’s a wonderful opportunity to talk, learn, improve, and figure out how to prevent it from happening again. It begins by having to ignore the media mutiny-storm, but it’s a chance for Sarri to reassert control over the inmates at the asylum, just like when Mourinho put his foot down in the summer of 2005 after Ricardo Carvalho got a bit out of line.
“Ricardo Carvalho seems to have problems understanding things, maybe he should have an IQ test. I am not happy to have heard about this through the papers. [...] Carvalho knows how I work, I think he is just temporarily angry but I will speak with him personally. We can’t have this kind of thing at Chelsea.”
-José Mourinho; April 2005
We couldn’t have that kind of thing then, we can’t have that kind of thing now.
Mourinho and Riccy C had been working together for four years at that point and would go on to work together for nearly a decade more. There’s nothing preventing Sarri and Kepa from doing the same (other than Chelsea’s results, that is). They were both happy to roll with the misunderstanding line in public; they can figure out the rest in private.