The Strange Tale of Kepa Arrizabalaga

In the 2019 English League Cup Final game between Chelsea and Manchester City, fans were treated to a spectacular sight of bizarre behaviour by an elite footballer.

Chelsea’s goalkeeper, who goes by the name Kepa, had just been treated for cramps and, with the clock winding down to the end of extra time and the penalty shoot-out looming, Chelsea’s manager signalled for a tactical substitution. The reserve keeper, Willy Cabellaro, with a better penalty record, was coming on for Kepa.

But, instead of following orders, Kepa refused to come off the field, waving his index finger furiously in the air and repeatedly shouting “NO!” defiantly at the bench. It was comically astonishing for the millions who were watching. The referee couldn’t get Kepa off the field, and Chelsea’s team captain and teammates could not persuade him either. The manager was incensed but could do nothing at that moment.

As things turned out, Chelsea went on to lose the penalty shootout 4-3. Kepa took a gamble and failed. Had Chelsea won the cup, he’d have been lauded as a hero who overcame adversity and trusted in his instincts. But whether they win or lose, his manager would have looked the fool.

The neutrals had a good laugh, and Chelsea fans could only wonder what could have been. Chelsea’s manager, having been undermined and made to look helpless, was sacked soon after.

Kepa, for all his display of youthful hubris, was demoted to the substitute’s role for much of the remaining season. When he did play, he produced a catalogue of bad goal-keeping and poor decisions. The club eventually bought a new keeper, Edouard Mendy, after the new manager decided he couldn’t trust Kepa.

Who would? You wouldn’t trust him on the field and you can’t trust him not to come off it. That was in 2019.

Fast forward to 2021. Chelsea played Manchester City in a cup final again, this time, on a much bigger stage – the UEFA Champions League final. This time, Chelsea won 1-0. Redemption for the team, but not for Kepa – he didn’t get to play.

I’m no huge soccer fan, but this sports story contains a rich treasure trove of lessons for us.

For successful living, it pays to evaluate our situation every once in a while. Kepa’s story prompted me to think of how we’re doing in the bigger story of God. Our lives are not our own – we were bought at a price.

The good Lord reclaimed us, cleansed us, nurtured and trained us for work, and we’re part of His story, His grand plans. History is really His-story. How are we doing as part of this story? Are we playing our part as we should?

On a head level, we know that life is not about us. We’re part of God’s grander plans that stretch into eternity.

Now that we’re at the half-time mark of 2021, it’s good to evaluate. Do you need to take time out to listen to God? If you’ve been running hard, is He telling you to rest? If you’ve been hurt on the field, is He telling you to step off and get treated? If you’re in good condition, is He telling you to press in and press harder? If you haven’t been running like you should, is He telling you to stop saying, “There’s a lion outside!” (Proverbs 26:13)

Here are a few suggested questions to ask ourselves and to bring before God:

(1) What’s Your plan concerning Your glory and how may I play a part?
(2) How am I doing for You, God?
(3) What would You like me to do for my spouse? How can I improve my family’s welfare? What would You like me to do for my community? Where would You like me to start?

Listen, and when He speaks, let your answer be a humble “yes”. He deserves our willing obedience.

The story of Kepa is a good reminder. Like him, we’re a people under authority. Kepa could’ve listened to his manager and followed instructions. Instead of going from strength-to-strength and from glory-to-glory, Kepa became a cautionary tale of what happens when we think we know better. How do we demonstrate that we know better? Sometimes by not bothering to find out about the Master’s plans.

It’s half-time – it’s time to speak to Him!


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