It is safe to say that Maurizio Sarri experienced a turbulent first season in the Premier League, having taken on a job that has seen much more experienced top-flight managers get the boot. Sarri himself faces ‘the boot’, but it may not be the dreaded figurative one, which has become so readily associated with the Chelsea hot-seat in the Roman Abramovich era.
Instead of being proverbially removed by an imaginary axe, Sarri’s head may indeed be turned by the opportunity to return home to the distinctly boot-shaped Italy, and manage champions Juventus to further glories.
Unforgiving Chelsea Culture Could Slay Sarri
There is no doubt that Sarri’s first season at Stamford Bridge yielded highs and lows, with the obvious high being a second Europa League win in as many appearances for the West London club. However, much of the expectant Stamford Bridge faithful will see that as a mere consolation prize.
Chelsea’s away form in the early part of 2019 was the great low, with the Blues scoring just one goal – and two points – across seven trips to opposition that ended 2018/19 outside the bottom three. In particular, a 6-0 drubbing at the Etihad Stadium showed just how far Chelsea have fallen since the end of 2016/17.
Regardless of his triumph in the Europa League, and role in yet another top-four finish for Chelsea, the Naples-born Sarri has yet to win over the Stamford Bridge faithful. Certainly, those who are not already openly calling for his dismissal are talking up months – certainly not seasons – as the testing period to see if he is the real deal.
A Tale of Disunity and Disruption
Sarri’s current difficulties also seem to lie within his ability to galvanise a squad that exists to confuse. Aside from European exploits, practically no-one except galactico to-be Eden Hazard truly played for the shirt in 2018/19. Though Chelsea led the fledgling league after August, it all soon fell apart, and several players underperformed by their own standards.
Alvaro Morata did precisely nothing to justify his £60m price tag during what were likely his final months as a Chelsea player, though by his account, there were mitigating circumstances at play. The oft-reliable Mikel Alonso was also a mere passenger at times, during the barren run of Premier League away form in early 2019. However, many would argue that he has not been the same since Antonio Conte’s first season as Chelsea boss in any case.
However, a singularly definitive display of nothing other than open contempt for Sarri was reserved for the Carabao Cup final. In the aftermath of Kepa Arrizabalaga’s refusal to yield his position to reserve goalkeeper Willy Caballero, pundits wasted no time in unearthing the usual soundbites, putting a particular emphasis on the belief that Sarri had ‘lost the dressing room’.
Admittedly, the gravity of this phrase has been cheapened by less hardy fans across the country, who may even use it with shameful abandon after a winless run of just two or three games.
However, there has been a palpable sense of alienation between manager and players ever since that display. Some would also say that the relatively low quality of opposition Chelsea faced in their run to Europa League glory has merely masked the lack of chemistry between Sarri and his charges, and that the early part of next season will see Chelsea’s troubles resurface.
Sarri’s future: Bleak and Contrite…
Operating under a transfer ban that remains upheld, Chelsea are expected to struggle to compete with their fellow top-four finishers in 2019/20. This is an expectation that will be found far and wide ahead of the new season, especially if you wish to place a bet.
Should Chelsea struggle with any real degree of embarrassment, then Sarri will undoubtedly face dismissal. Having taken the gamble of staying on at Stamford Bridge in this scenario, the sixty-year-old would likely miss his only real chance of winning personal doubles (or even trebles) with the mighty Juventus.
In any case, the mantle of ‘Chelsea manager’ rarely ends well these days. As the man who singularly took Chelsea to new heights in the mid-2000s, owner Roman Abramovich expects the best. Subsequently, he has delivered no less than eleven ‘P45s’ since acquiring the club in 2003, along with nearly £100m in payoff money.
Ending a season trophy-less generally spells automatic dismissal, but even a trophy win is sometimes not enough. Perhaps most notorious of all was the sacking of ex-blue Roberto Di Matteo in 2012, just months after he managed Chelsea to a first-ever Champions League trophy.
With Di Matteo having lit the blue torch paper for Chelsea in the 1997 FA Cup final, and sparked the club’s transition from provincial nobodies to a European regular, many Blues fans saw this as a step too far from Abramovich.
…or Black and White?
With no sign of the transfer ban being lifted, and Eden Hazard apparently set to depart for the Bernabeu within weeks for a reported £88.5m, Sarri seems well-advised to consider other options. While he certainly has the tactical nous to make Chelsea compete on two fronts in 2019/20, he would likely enjoy a much stronger feeling of mutual respect in a Serie A dressing room.
So too would Sarri likely enjoy much more leeway from the supreme powers of the Juventus board, even though – quite strangely – there is relatively more in the way of expectation from the club’s fanbase with regard to silverware.
Naturally, much will be made about Sarri’s relative lack of experience in the Italian top-flight. However, his managerial statistics appear to contradict the belief that ‘old dogs’ can’t learn new tricks.
Notably, in the space of less than four years after leaving lower-league minnows Sorrento with a 42.1% win rate in December 2011, Sarri was maintaining a steady win-rate at Napoli, which stood at 66.0% by the time he departed for Chelsea in 2018.
Any translation of that form, or any improvement on his current win-rate of 61.9% as Chelsea manager, will undoubtedly see Sarri enjoy a long and fruitful time in Turin.
In making the move to Juventus, and managing them to a successful title defence, Sarri would also prove that it is never too late to reach the very pinnacle of the management game.