David Preece: Chelsea’s game of Chinese Whispers presents a missed opportunity for Maurizio Sarri

For around 208 minutes of a supposedly super Sunday, we were all feeling sold short, bereft of quality and anything resembling excitement.

Thursday, 28th February 2019, 6:00 pm
Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga (right) refuses to leave the pitch after his proposed substitution during the Carabao Cup Final.

The hatred that runs between Manchester United and Liverpool didn’t run deep enough for them to make the effort to beat one another, and Chelsea’s desire to not end up embarrassed again by Manchester City was enough to make the Carabao Cup final more of a monocle than a spectacle.

Until Chelsea played their own version of Chinese Whispers, that is.

I think maybe that’s why everyone has gone overboard with Subgate, or whatever they’re calling it. It’s one of those situations where nobody comes out of it looking good. Especially those who are so outraged at what went on.

For those of you not up to speed on what happened at Wembley, it was a drama played out by Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa and his manager Maurizio Sarri, with brief cameos from Willy Caballero, David Luiz and a fourth official holding up an electronic board.

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This is concise version: Kepa goes down twice with cramp in his calf and and is treated for it by the Chelsea medical staff.

Sarri thinks he is unable to continue into the penalty shoot-out and decides to replace Kepa with Caballero.

Here’s the plot twist.

Kepa says he is fine to continue and refuses to come off the pitch.

His manager throws a hissy fit and storms down the tunnel.

Chelsea lose the penalty shoot-out and the football world loses its mind over nothing. A storm in a teacup.

Were Kepa’s actions a massive act of disrespect to his manager as many people suggested? Or was his desire to stay on the pitch something to be commended?

Me? I’d go with the latter.

Now, as BBC sports presenter John Watson pointed out with a hint of sarcasm in our interview, there may be something in a goalkeeper defending another goalkeeper.

The union is strong with this one, it is true.

But rather than an act of defiance, undermining his manager’s authority, I thought Kepa showed some old-fashioned grit in wanting to stay on and play through the pain.

If this had been Bryan Robson or Terry Butcher ploughing on through the pain barrier, there’d be pats on the back all round.

This is different to some.

This is a spoiled, rich, petulant footballer who defied his manager’s orders.

Of course, if this had been a tactical switch made by Sarri on the basis Caballero would have swayed the chances of victory in Chelsea’s favour with his speciality prowess of saving spot kicks, then I’m all for giving Kepa a metaphorical kicking.

We now know that it wasn’t - although the manner with which the message that he was okay to continue was communicated perhaps wasn’t right.

So a miscommunication it was and Kepa was subsequently fined, I assume, for the way he addressed his manager from the pitch.

Sarri though, for all his grievance, showed little of the authority so sorely needed in a dressing room notorious for its guillotine-like effect on managers they don’t much care for.

Could you see a player under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson, Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp refuse their manager’s instructions?

No chance.

So to me it, this whole charade played out in public is indicative of what is happening off it.

It may have been a misunderstanding, a case of crossed wires, but this is Chelsea and this is the environment Sarri finds himself working in.

It could yet prove a crossroads in his Chelsea career, a Sliding Doors moment where a different path could have been taken.

Here was his chance to exert authority and show his unruly lot who is boss.

Unfortunately for him, it looks as if he’s the version of Gwyneth Paltrow that doesn’t find her boyfriend in bed with another woman ... and he’ll continue to be taken for a fool.