How far is player power and respect being challenged in modern football?

Respect is a requirement in every path of life, but on a professional football field, you’d expect it would be a given. Your team is locked level in the dying embers of the Carabao cup final and you pull up with an injury, holding your legs. The managers first thought is to get a player off the bench ready to come on. Clearly instructing on the sideline for a substitution, you stand on the field of play waving your arms around like a kid in a soft play area instructing to his mother that he doesn’t want to leave.

Yes, you are hearing this right, Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga undermined his own manager on the field of play. Despite his manager, Maurizio Sarri repetitively signalling that he wanted to make a substitution. To everyone’s bewilderment, the Spaniard remained on the pitch after previously looking in some discomfort. His replacement would have been esteemed, heroic penalty saving veteran, Willy Caballero. The former Manchester City goalkeeper wrote his name in folk-law on many occasion, single handedly winning his side penalty shootouts. Most notably, the 2016 Capital One cup Final against Liverpool where the Argentinian earned the plaudits for delivering his team the trophy and cult hero status.

It seemed a no-brainer for Caballero to come on and perform his penalty saving antics against his former club. But the man was made to stand on the touchline whilst his petulant, disrespectful goalkeeping compatriot refused to be substituted. Quite remarkably, the first time I’ve seen something this extraordinary occur on the football field. It certainly wouldn’t have happened in the days of Brian Clough and George Graham who would have stormed onto the field themselves and dragged the player off by his ear.

Maurizio Sarri looked a frustrated figure on the sideline, pacing around his managerial area and waving his arms in an exasperated motion. Despite being the ‘leader’ of the team, Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta didn’t take responsibility in the situation. You’d expect a senior figure in the squad to step up and approach the Spanish goalkeeper, but the players allowed their own manager to become a belittled, isolated figure. He’s the ‘boss’ yet when making a managerial decision beneficiary to his team, despite how well Kepa performed in the 120 minutes, there is an unwritten, but important rule that the players must oblige to when the manager makes a command. In a workplace, you’re sacked if you frown upon, dismiss or even undermine the manager. Doubt it would go down well with Mr Roman Abramovich if Sarri was to sack his 70 million pound goalkeeper, though.

After refusing to be substituted and publicly humiliating his manager, Kepa Arrizabalaga subsequently lost his team the Carabao Cup final allowing a tame Sergio Aguero penalty to slip under his grasp. The drama which unfolded in the dying embers of extra time, ultimately overshadowed an inspired Chelsea performance who looked rejuvenated after being embarrassed by Pep Guardiola’s imperious side two weeks prior. A highly contested final with Chelsea inarguably having the better of the chances.

Consequently, Arrizabalaga has been fined a weeks wages for his actions which won’t impact his well being, I’m sure. However, the stone faced Italian has a decision to make in terms of who is going to start the next game. Does he bench his 70 million pound goalkeeper as a lesson to not undermine the manager or does he stick with the keeper that ultimately, has the exceedingly technical ability (Kepa). The principle should take precedent in the situation, which would be to drop the youthful Spaniard. But it’s the business end of the season, can the manager risk dropping his consistent performer and put their Champions league qualification hopes in jeopardy?

Underneath, Kepa took to Twitter to give his post-match apology.

Kepa’s post-match thoughts on the controversial incident in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final (2019)

A lack of respect is something football fans alike are being accustomed to seeing at the elite level of the sport. In 2011, then Manchester City forward Carlos Tevez refused to be substituted on to the field in the Citizen’s Champions League group stage game against Bayern Munich. In a post-match interview, Roberto Mancini said he would never play Tevez again upon being questioned on his future with the player. This incident sparked a stand off between the pair, culminating with Tevez banishing from the club for five months.

“No. If we want to improve like a team, like a squad, Carlos cannot play with us. With me, no – it is finished.

Despite seemingly heading on a downward spiral at Man City, the Argentinian forward would go some way to fixing his fractured relationship with Mancini. After barely featuring for the full season, Tevez would go on to be a key asset off the bench in Manchester City’s title winning campaign and their first since 1968.

Jose Mourinho, one of the greatest managers to exist, is also someone who has suffered from a fractured relationship with his players culminating in break down of respect. In his time at Manchester United, the special one endured a mixed spell; some say the manager failed to have an imprint on the team and that his style didn’t suit the norms of Manchester United. Yet in two and half seasons at the helm, the Portuguese manager delivered a Europa League victory over Ajax and a Carabao cup win over Southampton. However, the latter stages of his Manchester United career overshadowed the success he dispatched at Old Trafford.

Following a second placed finish, Manchester United were expected to push on and pose Manchester City a challenge in the title race. But after a disappointing transfer window for Mourinho and a bitterly disappointing start to the season – dropping 6 points in their first 4 games. The pressure had been ramped up on the boss.

After their humiliating beginning to the season, Mourinho denied having a fractured relationship with Pogba. But weeks later, he stripped the French international of his vice-captaincy and had this to say.

I’m the manager I can make these decisions, no fall out at all, no problems at all. Just a decision I do not have to explain.”

Without offering justification, Mourinho had dug a bigger hole for himself and it was clear to see that the performances on the pitch were a sign that the special one had lost the dressing room. Although, it seems like Mourinho was in the wrong, who knows what gets said behind closed doors. Maybe the special one and United where never going to work. The lines of disrespect in this instance are fine. As Manchester United look an imperious force under Ole Gunnar Solksjaer who has certainly galvanised the dressing room. Whereas, prior to his appointment, the same team weren’t pressing with the same intensity, attacking with purpose or creating meaningful opportunities.

The absence of respect in this example is portrayed by how quickly the players can flick an imaginary switch. Although, the team will back themselves and say they were giving their all for the shirt under Mourinho. Compare their performances under the Portuguese and now under the spell of Solksjaer, the difference will be staggering. There is, however, an argument that Solskjaer knows the club philosophy inside out and this instantly works to the Norwegian’s advantage.

Conclusively, you can look at this situation from two angles; Solksjaer picked up a team who were short on confidence, he put his arm around the players backs and gave them the freedom to express themselves. Or, the players exerted their power by lowering their performance levels to dislodge Mourinho’s managerial position.

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