After Ronaldo… five other players who refused substitutions, including Man Utd keeper

Sarah Winterburn
Kepa, Carlos Tevez, Lukasz Fabianski refused to be involved in substitutions.

Cristiano Ronaldo stormed out of Old Trafford before thr final whistle on Wednesday, after he reportedly refused to come on during the late stages of Man Utd’s win over Tottenham.

His actions deserve condemnation, they were not unprecedented. Here are five other examples of players who refused substitutions…


Kepa (Chelsea)
The Chelsea keeper made Maurizio Sarri’s head spin when he refused to come off during the dying stages of extra-time as the 2019 League Cup final approached a penalty shoot-out. Kepa was receiving treatment for an injury he exaggerated so that he and his team-mates could ‘catch our breath’.

“Suddenly, I saw that the coach had sent Willy Caballero to warm up. He thought I couldn’t go on,” Kepa told The Players’ Tribune. “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. I tried to signal that I was OK, that I wasn’t injured. But we were at Wembley in front of more than 80,000 people, so of course Sarri didn’t understand me. When the fourth official raised the board, clearly I should have come off, and I’m sorry I didn’t.”

Upon Kepa’s insubordination, Sarri stormed down the tunnel, only to reappear for the shoot-out, which Chelsea lost. Last season, he was on the other end of a similar substitution when, seen as a penalty-stopping expert, he replaced Edouard Mendy. Liverpool scored all 10 of their kicks before Kepa mistook his penalty for a goal-kick.


Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea)
The most clear comparison came in 2017 when Swans keeper Lukasz Fabianski was hurt late in their match against Tottenham, colliding with Vincent Janssen in the 81st minute. As a stretcher was readied, manager Paul Clement told reserve Kristoffer Nordfeldt to get ready. Fabianski insisted he was fine and play resumed, but the goalkeeper continued to hold his rib, even as he made a fine save to deny Dele Alli.

Clement made the decision to replace Fabianski and his number went up in the 86th minute, but Fabianski refused. After continued remonstrations, Clement turned to the fourth official to cancel the change, and Jon Moss waved play on. It was not the end of the story, however, as Fabianski let in three goals in the final minutes of an extraordinary match, turning a 1-0 lead into a 3-1 defeat.


Carlos Tevez (Manchester City)
Roberto Mancini accused Carlos Tevez of refusing to come on as a substitute for Manchester City in their Champions League match against Bayern Munich in September 2011. Tevez denied ignoring his manager’s instructions, blaming the incident on a misunderstanding. Nevertheless, it would be the start of a lengthy stand-off between the pair which saw Tevez banished from the club for five months before returning to play a dramatic role in them securing the Premier League title.


Nikola Kalinic (Croatia)
Croatia striker Nikola Kalinic was sent home from last summer’s World Cup in disgrace after Zlatko Dalic said he had refused to come on as a substitute in their group match against Nigeria. Dalic said Kalinic had claimed he was not fit to play, but that was not good enough for the manager, who pointed to a string of similar incidents in the past. The 31-year-old, capped 41 times, has not played for his country since.


Les Sealey (Manchester United)
Kepa is not the first goalkeeper to refuse to leave the pitch during a League Cup final, but Les Sealey’s actions in the 1991 Rumbelows Cup Final earned praise, not scorn. The Manchester United goalkeeper suffered a badly gashed knee with 12 minutes remaining, but knowing there was no reserve keeper on the bench, he refused to have an outfield player replace him in goal and limped through the remainder of the match. He conceded no further goals, though John Sheridan’s 37th-minute strike was already enough for Sheffield Wednesday to lift the cup with a 1-0 victory.

That wasn’t the end of Sealey’s pain, however. So bad was his gash that he collapsed in the airport as United prepared to return to Manchester. “They reckon if we’d got on the plane gangrene would have set in and he would have lost his leg,” said Lee Sharpe in 2020. Sealey was back in time for the European Cup Winners’ Cup final a few weeks later, with a heavily strapped knee, to help United beat Barcelona 2-1.

Read more: Cristiano Ronaldo and a bunch of other players who really should never have gone back