This week, Chelsea appointed Maurizio Sarri, the latest in a line of Italian managers that started with Gianluca Vialli in February 1998. However, those who are expecting to find similarities to his predecessor Antonio Conte are very much mistaken, the latter seeking perfection through work rate while the new man only asks for absolute precision in the way his side plays.
Many will have viewed the sheer beauty in the way that Napoli played during Sarri’s three years in charge, a spell that so very nearly culminated in toppling giants Juventus from their throne at the top of Serie A with a much tinier budget than their Turin rivals. With a regular starting eleven and a 4-3-3 system that ran like clockwork, the tactician directed all the play through midfield metronome Jorginho – who is a truly crucial signing for the Blues – the Italian international having topped Europe’s top five leagues in terms of the number of passes per match for the last three consecutive seasons.
Like all good things, however, Sarrismo comes at a price. There is no doubt that this appointment is a gamble for Chelsea, yet the potential winnings are sky high if it does turn out to be one that pays off.
It is now no secret that Sarri came from humble beginnings, working as a banking executive up until 1990. Sarri learned the ropes through the Tuscan minor leagues, taking Sansovino to Serie C2 and moving on to gain promotion to Serie C1 with Sangiovannese which forced him to give up his role in the financial sector. He would not undertake his first opportunity in Serie B until 2005 however, and his first ever season in the Italian top flight was not until he helped Empoli reach Serie A in 2014.
If that rise had been slow and steady, what happened next was meteoric as – after having secured a hugely unexpected 10th place Serie A finish with Empoli – Sarri was snapped up by Napoli for the 2015/16 campaign. His move south would see the Partenopei achieve a club record points total in each of his three seasons in charge, and that would ultimately see Chelsea come knocking as Sarri took on his first ever role outside of Italy.
Premier League fans can expect a brusque and awkward manner from Sarri, a man who once got in trouble for a homophobic comment made towards Roberto Mancini and who was pictured sticking his middle finger up at Juventus supporters whilst the Napoli team bus arrived for a crucial clash in Turin at the end of last season. The Coach definitely does not fit the smooth and suave Italian stereotype, his old-fashioned glasses and chain-smoking habit a relic from the past.
Chelsea fans will also have to learn to be patient as his style of football – and precise training methods that include using drone technology to help the players to learn their exacting roles – takes time to implement. Squad rotation is now part and parcel of the modern game, however, Sarri has seen his Napoli side fade away with fatigue towards the end of every campaign as the tactician persists with his regular eleven, often ignoring other options within the squad in favour of familiarity and continuity.
Indeed, no less than eleven of the Napoli squad played more than 2,000 minutes in 2017/18, while six of that group played more than 3,000 minutes. In comparison, not one member of the Juve squad notched up more than the latter figure, while only seven were deployed for more than 2,000 minutes by Max Allegri.
Patience will be an important factor here, for both Chelsea supporters and – perhaps more importantly – the notoriously impatient Roman Abramovich. Maurizio Sarri is a genuinely talented and obsessive tactician, but with it comes a real need to learn to take the rough with the smooth.
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