Sunday 20 October 2019

Stephen Hunt: 'Sarri may end up losing war but he must win this battle with players'

Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri. Photo: PA
Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri. Photo: PA

Stephen Hunt

If Maurizio Sarri was to have any chance of regaining control of the Chelsea dressing room, there was no way he could have selected Kepa Arrizabalaga to play against Tottenham on Wednesday.Whether it was a misunderstanding, rebellion or a goalkeeper simply being a selfish idiot is irrelevant. Sarri might not have much time left at Stamford Bridge, but he still has to stamp his authority on his squad. He might even be tempted not to pick Kepa again this season, and who could blame him?

Kepa's behaviour in the League Cup final was unprofessional and selfish. This was not a regular Premier League game which is going to be easily forgotten. This was a cup final, at Wembley, with millions watching across the globe. Kepa's antics will be remembered forever.

Watching, I wondered how a goalkeeper could get cramp in the first place? Kepa is not a 14-year-old playing in the Kennedy Cup final who has let his nerves get the better of him. He is a Premier League goalkeeper being paid a fortune. It was embarrassing.

Maybe it was an attempt to grab the limelight; maybe he wanted to look like the hero who shook off cramp and injury to save penalties in the shoot-out and win the cup for Chelsea. If that was his plan, it backfired. He should have saved Sergio Aguero's weak penalty and he couldn't even manage that.

Sarri and the medical staff, though, were clearly convinced he was injured. They were putting the team first. Kepa was only thinking about himself. .

Once a manager has made that decision about any player he has to act on it - and so do his team-mates. The lack of support for Sarri from the Chelsea players was shocking.

I would love to have been in the dressing room afterwards. I have thought about how I would have handled that situation if I had been on the pitch.

As a 30-plus-year-old, who captained Reading in the Premier League and FA Cup, I would have said something to the goalkeeper and my captain to get him off the pitch. Or I would have gone over and done it myself. And I think even as a naive 21-year-old I would have done the same.

There was none of that support for the Chelsea manager. Look at the reaction of the captain Cesar Azpilicueta and senior players like David Luiz. There is no doubt Azpilicueta is a very good player and a strong individual, good captain material, but he should have taken responsibility, grabbed Kepa by the neck and dragged him off the pitch. And what is David Luiz doing covering his mouth when he talks? Don't try to hide when we can all see what you are trying to do.

Sarri has his faults. I still cannot believe he is playing N'Golo Kante in a forward position when he is a World Cup and Premier League title winner as the deep ball-winning midfielder. Eden Hazard cannot work his magic if he doesn't have the ball and Kante is one of the best in the world at getting it and giving it.

But I thought he dealt with the situation well, and with dignity. I don't blame him for getting angry and it must have taken some willpower not to walk away completely when he started to head down the tunnel. I am glad he didn't because the Chelsea players would have won again.

Unfortunately for him, I don't think you can come to the Premier League and try to slow things down, you have to get after the ball and press. Premier League football is quick and intense all the time. I am not sure Sarri has grasped that yet.

He still deserves respect from his players. He is the manager after all. The big problem is that the culture at the club has protected the players for too long because Roman Abramovich has given them power.

It looks like Sarri is fighting a losing battle. He will probably leave in the summer - if not before - with full severance pay and his reputation intact. Just.

I feel sorry for Sarri. He has inherited a horrible situation at Chelsea but the person I feel most sorry for is Willy Caballero. I am glad he got his opportunity against Spurs on Wednesday and I hope he keeps his place in the team until the end of the season.

The relationship between the number one goalkeeper and his number two has to be strong because behind the scenes, Monday to Friday, the first-choice man relies heavily on his understudy. He needs him for support, and to be a decent supplier and server in the training sessions.

It takes skill to be a good number two. He may be desperate to play, but when it comes to Saturday afternoon, he has to support the number one - keeping up the role of supplier in the warm-ups.

Kepa has undermined that relationship. How can he expect Caballero's support when he left him standing by the side of the Wembley pitch? When he was refusing to come off, there was absolutely no consideration or respect.

How can Caballero support Kepa with all his heart? If I was his number two he would get nothing from me. I would not want to help him after the incredible arrogance Kepa has shown.

But should we be surprised? I don't think it is all down to the wages the players are on. I played with young lads at Coventry in the final stages of my career who definitely thought they were better than they were and had an arrogance and confidence which belied their actual ability. I guess that's the world we live in now.

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