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Kepa still ‘learning’ from substitution fiasco, hoping to finish season on better note

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The goalkeeper is ready to move on after learning his lesson.

Chelsea v Manchester City - Carabao Cup Final Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

It’s an image that could yet come to define Chelsea’s 2018-19 season: Kepa Arrizabalaga, the club’s record signing, arms spread wide in open defiance of the head coach going apoplectic, the assistant losing his temper, the substitution board flashing his number, the substitute goalkeeper looking confused, and even (some of) his teammates, or at least those who weren’t just standing around all sheepish.

Revolutions have been started on less.

Chelsea moved quickly to try to control the story, but the official line of a “misunderstanding” was weaker than Kepa’s wrists in failing to stop Aguero’s penalty in the subsequent shootout. It was a “mutiny”, the media had decided, and heads would have to roll.

Cooler heads, of course, prevailed. There probably was “some” misunderstanding. Kepa was fined and dropped for a game as punishment for taking over as player-manager for a minute. But the fallout is still being felt, as Kepa reveals in his interview with the Daily Mail’s Matt Barlow, in support of the Chelsea Foundation’s “Asian Star” event set to be held at Stamford Bridge on May 18.

“It was news around the world.People were talking about it and talking badly. It is normal for people to talk. My father spoke to me after when we were at home but he didn’t need to say a lot to me. By then I realised what I had done and there was not a lot left to say.

“It was a difficult week. It happened on Sunday, on Wednesday I didn’t play against Tottenham and then I was back to play against Fulham. I accepted what the manager said and the club fine and I realised I wouldn’t play the next game. I was right behind Willy and supported him and the team as much as I could.

After Kepa had gone down with an apparent injury twice in close succession, Sarri had decided to play it safe, and take him off to Willy Caballero. After all, Chelsea had held Manchester City at bay up to that point in the scoreless League Cup final, and with extra-time winding down and a penalty shootout looming, we needed the goalkeeper at, or as close to 100 per cent as possible.

But this is where the supposed misunderstanding happened, with Sarri under the mistaken impression that Kepa was injured (or had a severe cramp) and apparently no one relaying that information to him until after he had gone ballistic and threatened to walk out of the stadium. The timeline doesn’t quite add up, and there’s also the theory that Sarri wanted Caballero on for the shootout, with the veteran goalkeeper’s inside knowledge of City and previous success in similar situations seen as something possibly quite useful.

Whatever the real story, Kepa says he understands his error and will learn the necessary lesson from it, whatever they may be.

“It was something I did in the heat of the moment. It’s something I am not very proud of. It was a difficult moment which I’ve learned from and I’m still learning from. Now it’s time for me to look forward. I said I was sorry. Football goes on. We all make mistakes.”

“The only thing I wanted to say was that I was not injured and I was OK to carry on. I was not thinking about the penalties. I wasn’t totally aware of everything that had happened.

“It wasn’t until I looked back for the first time at the images that I realised. I saw it from a different perspective. Until that point, it was like I was in a bubble and wasn’t conscious of what was going on. I started to see it all when I arrived home for the first time and saw the video. That was the first time I realised what happened.

“I’ve learned a lesson and the next time it will be different. When I am asked to change, I will change.’

That’s the sort of mature attitude that played a part in prompting Chelsea to break the world transfer record for a goalkeeper this past summer, and sign the 24-year-old from Athletic Bilbao for €80m. While it’s practically impossible to live up to a world record transfer fee within just one season, Kepa’s had a very good first year in Chelsea colours, keeping 13 clean sheets in 35 Premier League appearances in a season that has seen its peaks and troughs. He may be significantly shorter at 6’1” than his (in)famous predecessors in Čech (6’5”) and Courtois (6’6”), and he may have let in a couple questionable goals, but his ball-playing skills are unquestionable, and other than the one incident, has been a model professional as far as we can tell. His overall game has scope for improvement, but he is very young still, especially for a goalkeeper.

In his interview with Daily Mail, he also talks about his childhood in Spain, his general experience (and weather) in England, as well as adapting to the Premier League game. Be sure to click over and give it a read — Kepa does come across as a nice young man in almost all his interviews, and this one’s no exception.

Having signed a seven(7!)-year contract, Kepa’s here for the long-haul, to learn, to grow, and win things together with Chelsea Football Club. In his first interview, he set a target of becoming a legend at Stamford Bridge. He’s off to a good start in that regard, especially if Chelsea can secure a top-four finish, and also win the Europa League to add another trophy to the display case.

“That is our target. To finish in the top four, reach the Europa League final and win a trophy. We know it’s not easy but that would be a good first season.

“It’s been great. It is a change, everything’s different, a new country, a new league, a new team but it has given me a step forward in my career and that’s why I have committed to sign for Chelsea for so many years.

“I am really happy with how things have started. I am trying to adapt and that is something I must continue to do.’

— Kepa Arrizabalaga; source: Daily Mail

But first, let’s get that win against Watford, shall we?