Kepa Arrizabalaga has finally explained the controversial incident that contributed to the beginning of his downfall at Chelsea.
Chelsea made Kepa the most expensive goalkeeper of all time when signing him from Athletic Bilbao in 2018. He replaced Thibaut Courtois, who headed to Real Madrid. Despite his high price, though, Kepa failed to match the standards of his predecessor.
One of the key turning points in his Chelsea career was the EFL Cup final in his debut season. Kepa infamously refused to be substituted when Maurizio Sarri tried to replace him with Willy Caballero ahead of the penalty shootout.
Kepa had been indicating an issue with his leg, so Sarri wanted to replace him. However, the Spaniard refused to come off. Despite saving one penalty, his team went on to lose the shootout.
It overshadowed the reaction to their defeat and despite apologising to his teammates, Kepa was subsequently dropped. He has never seemed like a reassuring presence since and has endured difficulties under Frank Lampard and Thomas Tuchel.
Chelsea signed Edouard Mendy last summer to replace him as number one. The Senegal international proved to be a much more reliable custodian than Kepa, who remained at the club as backup.
Doubts linger about his future, but the 26-year-old has now finally opened up about his side of the story from that fateful day.
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He told The Players’ Tribune: “After making a save, I felt something in my leg and I called for the physio to make sure it was nothing. Above all, though, I wanted to make sure that we as a team could catch our breath.
“Suddenly, I saw that the coach, Maurizio Sarri, had sent Willy Caballero to warm up. He thought I couldn’t go on.
“My intention, right or wrong, had only been to waste time to help the team. I didn’t have any serious problem that was going to keep me from continuing to play.”
“I was wrong, and I am sorry for everyone who was involved: for Maurizio Sarri, who it seemed like I had undermined in public; for Willy, a teammate and a great professional; and for all my teammates and Chelsea fans who had to put up with everything — all the noise that was generated during the game and then in the days after.”
Sarri to forgive Kepa with reunion?
While Sarri is long gone from Stamford Bridge, he could take the chance to forgive Kepa by taking him to his new club.
Reports last month suggested that Sarri would be interested in a reunion with Kepa at Lazio, where he has taken the job after a year out of management following his title win with Juventus.
La Repubblica claimed that Lazio were aiming to take the Spanish goalkeeper on loan. They would also be willing to cover half of his salary.
Chelsea want Kepa’s wages off the books, given that Mendy is firmly established as first choice. They would also like to recoup some of their huge investment, even if they won’t get such a fee back in full.
Therefore, a loan with an option to buy may make sense. Although, there has been little mention of the rumour in more recent weeks.