Saturday 19 October 2019

Jamie Carragher: 'Kepa Arrizabalaga's critics are hypocrites - he does not deserve mindless condemnation'

Chelsea's Kepa Arrizabalaga. Photo: Reuters
Chelsea's Kepa Arrizabalaga. Photo: Reuters

Jamie Carragher

Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga has been roundly slaughtered this week, with former professionals leading the condemnation.

It is about time someone spoke on his behalf. I may be in a minority, but I feel sorry for him.

I do not condone his refusal to come off the pitch before the penalty shoot-out against Manchester City in last weekend's Carabao Cup final, but I understand it. I certainly do not believe he deserves the level of condemnation he has received, nor that it is such a heinous act his punishment ought to be prolonged. I find some of the criticism - particularly from those who have played the game at the highest level - hypocritical.

Anyone who has played football knows how it feels to be substituted or left out.

Whether it is as a schoolboy or an experienced professional, you are struck with a variety of emotions - disappointment, obviously, but also embarrassment and sometimes resentment, particularly if you do not believe your manager has made the right decision.

You are expected to put on a brave face publicly, shrugging it off as you make your way to the touchline or take your place on the bench. Inside you can be simmering. Whether I was a youngster coming through or playing for Liverpool, not participating was the hardest thing to deal with mentally.

When I saw the images of Arrizabalaga pleading to stay on, I tried to imagine how he felt when he realised he was being subbed. First of all, let's end this myth he was being replaced because Willy Caballero is a penalty-saving specialist.

If that is the case, why was there no substitution before the penalty shoot-out in the semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur? Maurizio Sarri made only two substitutions that night and had the option of Willy Caballero on the bench.

Arrizabalaga made a crucial save in the shoot-out from Lucas Moura. Why would he have envisaged being replaced at the same stage of a final? If a manager intends to make such a radical decision, it must be discussed beforehand. Obviously it was not, or there would be no 'misunderstanding' as Chelsea put it.

To substitute a goalkeeper in those situations is the ultimate humiliation. There has to be a good reason for it. You have a 24-year-old keeper playing in the biggest game of his career so far and he was about to have the moment taken from him.

I - and anyone else - would be confused and livid. He is the world's most expensive goalkeeper trying to justify his fee and prove himself after a difficult debut season at Stamford Bridge. He had just made a crucial save to deny Sergio Agüero and kept a clean sheet over 120 minutes against a side that put six past him two weeks ago. It is no wonder he wanted the chance to be a hero.

In that situation, Arrizabalaga had two choices. Stand his ground to convince the manager there was no cause to take him off because he was not injured, or accept the decision and show his anger on the bench or in the dressing room later. The consensus is he should have taken option two. That is easier said than done in the heat of the moment. You do not play in a cup final every day of the week.

While I agree once the manager orders you off you must go, I also believe these were extraordinary circumstances where Sarri made the wrong decision based on misinformation. The goalkeeper was not injured. He wanted to communicate that and, ultimately, Sarri changed his mind.

There was an outpouring of support for Sarri after the game and in the following days. I think Arrizabalaga deserved more than was afforded him for finding himself in a situation he would never have been prepared for.

These incidents are rare, but not unprecedented. Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have all refused to come off when summoned at least once in their careers. Were they hung out to dry because of it? It never looks good when a player openly disagrees with the manager's decision. They should go off when told, but there is nothing wrong with being reluctant and furious when doing so.

All those former players lining up to have a pop at Arrizabalaga ought to ask themselves if they went through their career without at least once acting in a manner deemed disrespectful to their manager. It regularly happens in an emotional sport like football.

Managers, coaches and supporters can sometimes want it both ways, demanding the team ethic always comes first while simultaneously breeding players who will take such individual pride in their performance they never want to give up their shirt. In these instances it can seem like a one-way relationship for the player, where they are justifiably expected to give 100 per cent every day in training and on the pitch, while at the same time being prepared to behave like a choirboy if they are denied the chance to play in a match.

When I first broke into the Liverpool side as a teenager, I gave what I considered a respectful, professional interview about my role in the squad. I had made my first start, played well and scored, but said I understood it if I was left out of the next game. The first team coach, Sammy Lee, pulled me to one side and said: "Never say that again. Never give the manager an easy excuse not to pick you."

I kept that attitude for the rest of my career. No manager was going to leave me out without knowing how I felt about it. It is no different when you are subbed.

In 2001, I was so upset at being left out of the Charity Shield, when I was handed the winner's medal I threw it into the crowd. Liverpool's manager at the time, Gérard Houllier, only read about it in the newspaper. My feeling was I had made no contribution so didn't want a medal. A few days later I regretted it, sent out an appeal and got the medal back. I am sure Arrizabalaga felt differently - like I did - away from the emotion of a match day.

Those supporters who accuse players of putting their own interests first, or failing to respect the 'team ethic', should recall those times they were a player, whether at school or for a local club. How did you feel standing on the touchline having been left out, or when being told to come off with a game in the balance? Why do you imagine it is any different for the professionals?

It makes you feel you have not contributed enough even if your side has won. Your mood is soured. Something is missing. This is how the most successful players are raised to feel. Never to accept second best personally as well as collectively. It makes them tick. Seeing players trudge off the pitch, reluctant to shake the manager's hand, is the least you expect.

So we should lay off Arrizabalaga, or anyone else who expresses their discontent when threatened with or given the hook.

Show me a player happy to come off - especially in a cup final - and I would question whether they had the right attitude to be selected in the first place.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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