Regardless of Maurizio Sarri’s future in west London, Kepa should never play for Chelsea again after refusing to be subbed off in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final.
It’s not a matter of who the manager is, and whether Sarri has any real legitimacy in the dressing room right now.
It’s not even a matter of language barriers, of Kepa not understanding the situation fully and believing his manager mistakenly thought he suffered a serious injury.
Even if there was a misunderstanding, the sight of his manager screaming furiously on the touchline should have been more than enough indication of Sarri’s wishes.
Kepa had already gone down twice with cramp – Sarri had every right to make sure he had a fresh, fully fit goalkeeper between the sticks for the shootout.
On top of that, Willy Caballero is an expert penalty saver; of course Kepa wants to play, but he should have respected the abilities of his team-mate.
And whether you’re Lionel Messi or Liam Bridcutt, whether you’re having the game of your life or have just scored a hat-trick of own goals, when you see your number on the board you have to go.
If you think the manager has made a mistake, you discuss it later behind closed doors.
Circumstances are irrelevant and what Kepa did was disgraceful. He’s paid to work under Sarri, not with him or in a capacity where he can overrule his own manager.
Throw in the fact it happened in the last minutes of a cup final, creating chaos, confusion and tension before a penalty shootout for silverware, makes it all the more unforgivable.
In some ways, Chelsea bring this kind of behaviour on themselves. There is a culture at that club of cycling through managers and rarely backing them to the same degree as their Big Six rivals. They always seem to be on borrowed time, having to fight their way to every signing.
That’s why the players so often down tools, that’s why the fans have turned on Sarri so quickly – although he certainly hasn’t helped himself – and that’s probably why Kepa felt it was acceptable to effectively veto his own manager’s decision.
Simply put, managers at Stamford Bridge are constantly undermined, one way or another, and it sets a precedent that trickles down to almost every layer of the west London club.
With a transfer ban looming, this is the time for Chelsea to start righting some bad habits while expectations are lower.
Nobody expects Roman Abramovich to suddenly become the most patient chairman in the Premier League, but it’s clear that the perception around Chelsea managers needs to change – it’s given too many people licence to eat away at their credibility.
Making an example of Kepa is essential to stemming this tide, even if Sarri ends up following him out the exit door in the coming months. There’s a dangerous precedent at Chelsea, and unless its corrected Sarri’s successors will suffer from it as well.
Financially and in footballing terms it won’t make sense, not in the immediate term anyway, but the Spaniard should never play for the club again and be moved on in the summer.
Abramovich has shown a determination to prove no manager is bigger than Chelsea, but no player should be bigger than the manager either.
It has to stop now. As far as Kepa goes, he only has himself to blame.