Despite being signed for more than £70m and at one point boasting the title of both Chelsea’s record signing and world’s most expensive goalkeeper, Kepa has endured far more lows than highs during his time between the sticks at Stamford Bridge.
Appearing to be quite the prospect at La Liga outfit Athletic Bilbao, the Blues took a chance on the shot-stopper back in 2019, who is still only 26-years of age – relatively youthful for a top flight goalkeeper.
It was undeniably a gamble that has since backfired, with Kepa demoted to back-up status just two years into his tenure at the club, with his most infamous horror moment coming mid-way through his first season during the 2019 Carabao Cup final.
Up against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, Chelsea were clinging on with the scores level at 0-0 when Kepa was the subject of serious concern from then-manager Maurizio Sarri after the ‘keeper pulled up, suffering with cramp.
Sarri readied substitute goalkeeper Willy Caballero to enter the fray in place of the crocked Kepa as the prospect of a penalty shootout loomed large.
However, Kepa noticed he was about to be replaced and refused to come off the pitch, much to the amazement of everyone inside Wembley Stadium, with Sarri seething on the touchline.
Kepa, talking to The Players’ Tribune, described the incident as ‘a big misunderstanding’ between him and his boss, who understandably thought his goalkeeper was hurt when in actual fact it was all a ploy to waste time before the shootout.
“After making a save, I felt something in my leg and I called for the physio to make sure it was nothing. Above all, though, I wanted to make sure that we as a team could catch our breath.
“Suddenly, I saw that the coach, Maurizio Sarri, had sent Willy Caballero to warm up. He thought I couldn’t go on. My intention, right or wrong, had only been to waste time to help the team. I didn’t have any serious problem that was going to keep me from continuing to play.”
Kepa went on to reveal that he has apologised to Sarri for the incident, as well as Cabellero who was told to sit back down after his teammate refused to come off.
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“I was wrong, and I am sorry for everyone who was involved: for Maurizio Sarri, who it seemed like I had undermined in public; for Willy, a teammate and a great professional; and for all my teammates and Chelsea fans who had to put up with everything — all the noise that was generated during the game and then in the days after.”
The signing of Edouard Mendy last summer has since massively reduced Kepa’s playing time in Chelsea colours, the Spaniard’s future uncertain as he will likely have to leave West London to revive his career.
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