At the time of writing, it seems very likely that Maurizio Sarri is about to depart Chelsea to take over the reins at Juventus, in his homeland of Italy. By the time you’re reading this, he may already be gone. If that’s the case, it’s going to feel like the strangest of managerial departures at a club that’s already seen several of them within the past twenty years.
We’re not going to ignore the obvious as we write this. There have been various times this season when Sarri’s football has frustrated us all to the point of fury. The goodwill normally extended to a new manager ran out very quickly when it became clear he was either unable or unwilling to change his tactical approach.
He’s an abrasive man with a brusque personality, but what cannot be doubted is his absolute commitment to the style of football he believes in. Nobody within Chelsea – neither the fans nor the supporters – was ever going to change that vision. Nobody at Juventus, if that’s where he goes, will be likely to change it either.
Despite all of that, now the season is over and done, we’ve come away with a respectable third-place finish in a year when Liverpool and Manchester City were on a different planet to everybody else, Champions League football next term, and a European trophy in the cabinet. In short, we’ve had far worse seasons. For that reason, we believe that we all might owe Maurizio Sarri an apology.
Hurting, Not Helping
If we’re all willing to give ourselves a hard stare in the mirror, we know that a lot of us haven’t helped with this situation. Sarri would likely always have been tempted by the chance to manage a giant of Italian football, but the decision wouldn’t have been as easy for him to make if he’d felt loved by the fans and the board. He made no secret of the fact he was upset by the strongly-worded chants against him after that abysmal loss to Manchester City, and looking back it seems likely that the die was cast in those difficult weeks.
Sarri, still settling in at a new club in a new country, was made to feel unwelcome. Chelsea fans, sensing that the players were being held back by a short-sighted coach, had decided that he wasn’t the man we needed. A brief and unhappy relationship was on the cards from that point on, and now we face a divorce just at the point where things were starting to look better.
His tactics may have been baffling at times, but when we come to look at the way the season panned out with hindsight, our achievements this season might have been better than we had the right to expect. Sarri was largely left with the same squad who had underperformed drastically for Antonio Conte the season before. Seemingly unsupported by the board, the only permanent additions he was permitted to make to his team were Kepa and Jorghino. Kepa – aside from that bizarre incident in the League Cup final, has been a very solid performer; at least as good as (if not better than) Thibaut Courtois.
Jorghino, on the other hand, was a slow starter. At around the time we first started chanting against Sarri, Jorghino couldn’t put a foot right. He looked overwhelmed by the league he was in, and off the pace. Again – as with Sarri – some of us may have forgotten that he was new to the league and the country, and needed time to settle in. Players, regardless of their price tag, are only human.
In the final third of the season, he began to blossom. In the Europa League Final against Arsenal, he was outstanding. With another season in the Premier League, he might look like a whole new player. Whether he gets the chance is another thing – if Sarri does go to Juventus, he’ll likely want to take his favourite midfielder with him. We may not be able to sign players at the moment, but we can sell them.
Harder Next Time Around
We have a sneaking suspicion that the next man who comes in will have an even harder task than Sarri did. Unless the transfer ban is lifted – which now seems extremely unlikely – no new faces will arrive at Chelsea this summer. That means a new coach will still largely be playing with Conte’s squad, plus Kepa, and possibly Jorginho.
Eden Hazard has left, and the option to sign Gonzalo Higuain is unlikely to be taken up. Mateo Kovacic may stay, and is a good player, but can’t bring anything to the team we didn’t already have. We have the option of bringing back players who have been out on loan, but Michy Batshuayi, Tammy Abraham, Reece James, and Kurt Zouma aren’t likely to set the world on fire any more than they have in the past. A new manager will be tasked with somehow getting more out of the same squad of players than the last two coaches have been able to achieve consistently.
In retrospect, it feels like the loss of Sarri is part of the price Chelsea is paying for a roulette approach to employing managers ever since the first Mourinho departure. The strategy coming from upstairs has been very much like a determined online casino game player.
Place your bet, spin the reels, and if you don’t win anything with what comes up, you spin again. Avram Grant? Spin again. Scolari? Spin again. Ancelotti? Spin again. Villas-Boas? Keep spinning. It would seem that Abramovich has the same obsession as all players on casinos and their sister sites. – the belief that a jackpot is coming next time around. Sometimes, he may have been guilty of pushing the pursuit too far.
The decision to let go of Ancelotti looks worse with each passing year. The nagging feeling is that whoever comes next – even if it’s Terry or Lampard – won’t get a great deal of time to put things right.
Sarri Seems To Be The Hardest Word
And so to Maurizio Sarri, regardless of whether or not he does take (or have taken) the Juventus job, we have only one thing to say: We’re sorry this season ended like this. We didn’t always love you, and you didn’t always love us, but in the end, you gave us a trophy, and we may have been too hasty to criticise you when you were trying to shape the team according to your vision. Whatever you do in football next, here or elsewhere, we wish you nothing but the best.