by Terry Sazio
Maurizio Sarri is doing what is possibly an impossible job right now. During the first 6 months of his reign at Stamford Bridge, he has done the following:
– Trying to implement a new system (4-3-3) from the previous one (3-4-3).
– Trying to implement a new style of play (SarriBall).
– Rebuilding an ageing squad that is also full of deadwood.
– Keeping the board happy by meeting their demands of instant success (Champions League qualification, along with a bonus cup win).
– Cater to the ever-growing impatient Chelsea fanbase.
And so on. Like I said, Sarri is having to create miracles to a certain extent this season.
To be fair to him – considering what he has at his disposal and whilst changing, fine-tuning and perfecting pretty much everything at the same time – he basically is doing that.
As of today, this is the current ‘sitrep’ of our season:
• Premier League – 23 games played, 4th place, 47 points (13 off 1st).
• FA Cup – Fifth Round (vs Manchester United, 16th February)
• EFL Cup – Final (vs Manchester City, 24th February)
• UEFA Europa League – Round of 32 (vs Malmo, 14th/21st February)
(Along with being only one of two teams still competing in all four competitions that the team is able to play in.)
On face value, it appears that Sarri is indeed doing an almost miraculous job currently. That being said, there has been a few problems along the way. Whether those problems are down to him or out of his control – there’s still A LOT of work to be done both off and on the pitch for Sarri to be considered a success.
Now, don’t get me wrong… I will be judging Sarri on everything he has done so far and will call him out when it’s necessary, as he is not blameless. At the same time – like I mentioned in the Intro for this series – none of these articles will be stereotypical fan rants where I just come across as moaning for the sake of moaning just because it’s not going the way I WANT it to. This is still ‘The State of Chelsea Football Club’, but as I have done so far, looking at everything from both sides of the proverbial coin and will base my opinions and potential solutions off that mindset.
TIME GIVEN, PATIENCE NEEDED IS AN ABSOLUTE MUST
To say Maurizio Sarri needs to be given time and patience from the board, the media and the fans is nothing short of a huge understatement. The problem, however, is that the former Napoli coach is now the Head Coach of Chelsea, a club that has become synonymous with demanding instant gratification and therefore has given itself (unfortunately) the deserved reputation of being a ‘hire and fire’ club.
Eleven managers – including the current incumbent Sarri – in sixteen years certainly gives evidence to the reputation the club now has. There’s no denying that we have been very successful during those sixteen years but after a while, seeing a manager/coach get sacked every couple seasons just because of the short-term mentality that is rife within the board room, it has become very boring to witness constantly from a fans’ perspective.
Granted, some of the previous managers have not done enough and deserved to be sacked. Some have been let go due to player power (something I will mention in detail in ‘Part 3 – The Players’, coming tomorrow). Some have been removed due to ‘losing’ the dressing room and the fans. And some have been deemed surplus to requirements very harshly, even when delivering on the club’s directive of success in the league and/or winning cups domestically or in Europe (or both even, which has happened).
This is where the short-term, quick fix, demanding instant gratification mentality needs to stop. Maybe this happens with Sarri. Maybe, just maybe… the appointment of the former banker is a sign from the club (most notable owner Roman Abramovich) that changes are being made by the board in a positive manner. Ambramovich has always yearned for a Chelsea team to be successful whilst playing attractive, attack-minded football that is very easy on the eye so to speak.
After watching Ronaldo score arguably the best hat-trick you’ll ever see against Manchester United in the Champions League back in 2003, our billionaire owner has been craving that style of football. It’s the very reason why it made him pursue wanting to own a club in the top flight of English football.
During the first season of Carlo Ancelotti’s tenure (2009-10), we had that. A Premier League (scoring 103 goals in the process with multiple victories of 5+ goals) and FA Cup double – it was almost perfect. It was almost that night in Manchester for Abramovich. But unfortunately, Ancelotti was not able to repeat the success in the following season and was subsequently let go, which was very harsh in my opinion as this happened during the period of Abramovich’s ownership where he was very greedy for success and wanted it at all costs.
Maybe with Sarri at the helm 10 years later, Abramovich wants to see if lightning can strike twice. The club has to give Maurizio a genuine chance and by genuine chance, I mean at the very least, the length of his contract – 3 years (unless we have an absolute nightmare, like the 2015-16 season for example).
The time is needed, so is the patience This is a must if Sarri is to succeed in bringing a new identity to the club. If the likes of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino are being given the time to transform their respective teams, why cannot Sarri be given the same time and patience to do the exact same thing?
Hopefully, this will happen. I believe that this will be the case, seeming as Ambramovich personally chased after Sarri for 6 months to get him to bring SarriBall to Stamford bridge.
Speaking of SarriBall…
SEEING THE REAL ‘SARRIBALL’ WILL TAKE TIME
Let’s just say it right now – we’re not even close to the real version of SarriBall. The same SarriBall – or ‘Sarrismo’ as it was original monikered – we saw played during his time at Napoli and Sarri himself desires to be recreated at SW6. The current iteration has barely scratched the surface.
Pretty much throughout the entire Abramovich era, our style of play (besides under Ancelotti) has been to make sure we win. And that’s it. Sarri is bringing something to the club that is potentially never been seen before – a genuine football philosophy. Not just for Sarri’s tenure but for Chelsea going into the future as a whole, which would be used by his successors and thus would make it easier for the club to find the right manager/coach to continue to implement the style.
Just like the old saying of “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, SarriBall will not happen overnight. It won’t even happen after 6 months (which has been proven). It’s going to take at least this entire season and maybe the 2019/2020 pre-season at the very minimum, for Sarri to get it across to the players – as well the board possibly as well – for what is needed and what it will take for SarriBall to blossom and become the same as Sarrismo at the San Paolo Stadium.
When we see the version that Sarri deems is the one he wants, get ready to be amazed. Chelsea fans will see a much more fluid and possession-based style, which is in stark contrast to the rigid, more defensive minded football they exhibited under Antonio Conte.
Being based more on the collective, the players will be looking to create overloads and combinations around the opposition pressure as opposed to relying on deliveries from wide areas and individual moments of brilliance from attackers.
With that said, however, we barely have seen anything close to this. We have seen glimpses of SarriBall most notably during our impressive 2-0 win over Man City and in the first half of our 1-1 draw with Liverpool. It’s worked at times against the big teams. The problem is is that it hasn’t worked against the teams we expect it to work with consummate ease (1-0 defeat to Leicester City and the goalless draws to against West Ham, Everton and Southampton).
During those games mentioned where we have lost valuable points and thus have fallen out of this season’s title race, the fans including myself have been not happy with the how far along SarriBall has come. The majority of the time this season the football has not been fun to watch, I’m not going to deny that. At times, it’s been so hard to watch that you do turn off mentally and go through the motion of the match being played. And it’s during those times where Sarri needs to be held responsible for being too stubborn in his ways and not being more flexible when the time is needed to be so.
Give credit where it’s due though, even Sarri himself has admitted that and all he asks for is patience as this is not the ’final product’. This is why I’m more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and agree in that he deserves the time and patience for his style of football to be implemented without excessive stress and pressure being thrown at him on a constant basis.
Many fans and pundits, who have not thought of what should be said before spurting out their tiring, negative comments – constantly keep looking at why SarriBall is not working yet from the wrong perspective.
Sarri’s much-desired, footballing philosophy is not working to it’s fullest right now not because of the actual style but actually due to the fact that our Head Coach does not the players that are suited to the play for the system to work effectively.
That means we need players to come in who can play to the style that is required so we the fans can then be entertained. Just as important as getting the players in who can play the way Sarri wants to play, we need to get rid of those who simply cannot. A word comes to mind to describe those players – those who have barely been used this season or have severely underperformed due to simply not being good enough to play our new philosophy.
That word is on the tip of my tongue. The word is…
DEADWOOD IS LEAVING, SQUAD IS TAKING SHAPE
Deadwood. And boy do we have a lot of that, which just further shows how miraculous of a start Sarri has made at Chelsea considering the ‘quality’ of player he has had at his disposal.
Whilst the club so far has brought in Jorginho, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Mateo Kovačić and Gonzalo Higuaín (with Christian Pulisic coming during the summer), Sarri has still had to try and implement his playstyle and philosophy with the likes of Danny Drinkwater, Davide Zappacosta and most notably… Álvaro Morata.
Thankfully (I cannot say thank you enough by the way), just as much as the club are finally listening to a coach and getting the sort of player Sarri wants, they’re also listening to him in terms of who he doesn’t want at the club anymore and that they’re moved on sooner rather than later. Besides the unfortunate departure of Cesc Fabregas to Monaco, everyone who has left the club this season is due to not being wanted (Victor Moses), not being good enough (Morata) and removed so they’re not a negative influence within the team (Thibaut Courtois).
With the likes of Gary Cahill, Davide Zappacosta and Danny Drinkwater also expected to leave shortly – the deadwood is being dumped off to somewhere else and the squad of players that Sarri wants at Chelsea is taking shape. With an expected transfer blitz happening in the summer, we can once again be confident of imaging having a squad that is full of depth with very talented players (Crosses fingers).
THE YOUTH IS BEING TRUSTED
Despite contrary to popular belief within our fanbase, Sarri IS giving our youngsters a chance. Granted, not enough right now (which potentially is a factor in regards to the cutting situation involving Callum Hudson-Odoi) especially at times when there was no pressure to play them in my opinion (EFL/FA Cups, Europa League), but they are playing.
The likes of Hudson-Oodi, Ethan Ampadu and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are being given the chances and matches they need to develop and become better players for it in the long run. It’s not perfect right now as they can play even more (minutes wise) than they already do in my opinion, but the fact they’re playing and considered just as important to other players within the squad, that says a lot. Especially for their confidence in knowing the future of the club will be built around them.
JUDGE HIM NEXT SEASON, NOT NOW
Now is not the time to judge Maurizio Sarri. Give him this season to bed in, get to know his players and train them to the style of football he wants to showcase to the Chelsea fanbase each and every game. Next season is when we can start judging him as he would have had a full season and also (upcoming) a full pre-season to fully get over his philosophy, his style of play and what is expected/required from the players for the final version SarriBall can finally be unveiled – and potentially blow teams away both domestically and in Europe.
The Chelsea fanbase has become used to a prolonged period of success under the ownership of Roman Abramovich. Right now, the club is in full transition and thus everyone connected to the club needs to show both patience and time for all the problems it currently has to be fixed and make sure those problems don’t come back in the future.
This is the same for our Head Coach. We need for Sarri to be backed on and off the pitch and most importantly trust the process that is happening.
As the old saying goes… ”Help me help you.”