No one could have predicted the moment of unprecedented drama when Chelsea took on Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley in February 2019.
The two teams were going toe-to-toe, with the score still at 0-0 after 120 minutes as the first silverware of the season hung in the balance. Goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga had made a couple of big saves during the game, but during the extra-time period had been suffering with cramp.
After making a save to deny Sergio Aguero late on, the most expensive goalkeeper of all-time went down clutching his calf and manager Maurizio Sarri decided enough was enough.
With penalties looming and Kepa struggling, Sarri made the decision to substitute him and bring on Willy Caballero – who is known best for being a penalty expert during his time at Manchester City.
It would’ve been a psychological boost for the Blues, with Caballero likely to be in the heads of his former teammates while Kepa’s injury disadvantage would be removed from the equation.
Just before the fourth official’s board went up, Kepa was seen aggressively telling the coach and backroom staff that he was okay and didn’t need to come off. It didn’t matter, or shouldn’t have, as Sarri made the call anyway.
What followed was an unbelievable example of complete disrespect from a player to a manager, as Kepa just outright refused to leave the field of play. Sarri went back to his seat believing a decision had been made, while assistant Gianfranco Zola summoned Kepa to the sideline as Caballero continued with his stretches on the touchline.
David Luiz tried to intervene, but Kepa dismissed him before the referee was forced to come over and find out what was going on. The Spaniard told him he was all good and a change wasn’t necessary. That led to Jonathan Moss talking to the Chelsea boss on the touchline, who backed down.
Kepa remained on the pitch, player power had won once again at Chelsea. The Blues went on to lose the final on penalties, despite Kepa making a great save from Leroy Sané during the shootout.
It was the beginning of the end for Sarri’s sole season in charge at Stamford Bridge. The goalkeeper was fined a weeks’ wages for his role in the spectacle, with the Italian manager leaving any future disciplinary proceedings up to the club. He was dropped for a single game too, before returning to the lineup for the rest of the season.
It showed fans, media, players, hierarchy at the club and anyone coming into the club that the players were the ones who held the power at Stamford Bridge.
Despite protests and anger on the touchline, the player didn’t flinch and ultimately knew that he would come out victorious in their mental battle. That was a point of no return for Sarri.
He lost all authority in the dressing room and any weight that his words had held in the past disappeared. It was the continuation of the previous eras at Chelsea, with the likes of Frank Lampard, John Terry, Didier Drogba and co dominating the goings on at the club.
Sarri would leave the club that summer with a Europa League medal, joining Juventus and winning Serie A with them while Lampard took over at Stamford Bridge to re-establish control of the changing room.
Kepa now finds himself as second-choice goalkeeper at the club after being phased out by Lampard for a string of poor performances, but his time at the club will forever be defined by the day he undermined the manager.