In the last few weeks, in particularly after the Bournemouth defeat, many fans took to Twitter to criticise head coach Maurizio Sarri. Many fans said he should flat out be sacked. But many other well meaning fans have argued that he needs to adapt himself tactically. Whilst he doesn’t have the players to fit his football, he needs a ‘plan B’ – a different set of tactics, a different formation, adapted to what he has, to ensure he gets results.
But this is to miss the point of Maurizio Sarri. Because he is unlike any other manager Chelsea have had in the Abramovich era.
To understand why fans make these arguments, and why and how Sarri is different, we need to go back to 2003.
In May 2003, Chelsea beat Liverpool 2-1 to qualify for the Champions League. It was, in truth, one of the most important results in Chelsea’s history. If we had lost that match, we’d have been out of the Champions League for the next season.
And in all likelihood, Roman Abramovich wouldn’t have bought Chelsea.
Chances are the club would have had to sell the likes of Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink, Frank Lampard, John Terry and Eidur Gudjohnsen. The club would have been on the way down, unlikely to return.
As a fan then, the idea of being the best team in Europe, winning the Premier League, was a fantasy.
Then in July, Roman bought Chelsea, and a wind of change blew through the club. Suddenly it was all about winning. And winning now.
We spent £120m in the summer of 2003 – probably the equivalent of about 3 or 4 times that now – and in the summer of 2004, it really took off. We appointed a proven winner as manager – the rising, peak Jose Mourinho. We spent big again.
Jose was all about winning. And winning quickly. He changed the culture of the club, the mindset, the dna of the club, to one of winners. Fans began to expect instant success. With his first tenure, he raised the bar to almost impossible expectations, with 5 trophies in 3 years, and two Champions League semi finals.
This was the standard for all future managers. Instant success or go. Adapt tactics to suit the players.
The managers we had from Jose Mourinho onwards, were all proven winners. Coaches whose priority was winning, and who would adapt themselves tactically to win. Coaches who would do whatever it took to win. Winning was priority one. Change formation, change tactics, whatever it took to win.
And over the years this mentality has seeped its’ way into fan consciousness.
But then we appointed Maurizio Sarri.
What many fans have failed to understand, is Maurizio Sarri is not a manager who will do whatever it takes to win. Like his friend Pep Guardiola, Sarri is a football purist.
For him, the result is meaningless if the football isn’t played in the right way. Performance is equally important. And to compromise tactically, or philosophically, is almost a betrayal of their football principles.
If you watch videos of Sarri’s Napoli last season, you’ll see the incredible football his coaching can produce at its best. Quick, one touch forward passing, getting the ball forward quickly, creating chances, scoring goals, with well organised high press defending from the front.
For Sarri, this is how he wants his teams to play. He’s a perfectionist. Nothing less than this football will do. And right now, Chelsea aren’t close to that. The wrong players, wrong mentality, and we’re still in year one.
If Sarri’s first priority was winning, he’d adapt his tactics, formation and football to get results. But Sarri will not do that. Sarri wants to win matches, he wants to win trophies – he hates losing – but he will not settle for winning in a way which doesn’t fit with his philosophy. He would feel a failure winning a trophy but compromising his philosophy.
Sarri was hired to implement a playing style and footballing philosophy at the club -much like Johan Cruyff at Barcelona and Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. And to implement a philosophy, especially with players used to playing a totally different way, takes time. I means you’ll get bad results and performances. It means players taking time to adapt. It means getting rid of players who don’t fit the style and brining in players who do.
With Sarri, as with Pep, he doesn’t adapt to the players the players adapt to him – or they go. Chelsea are doing a squad rebuild right now. It began last summer, continued in January and will go into the summer. Building, slowly a team which fits with Sarri’s philosophy, and can carry it through for years to come, and win trophies playing it.
Even without the right players, he has in 6 months got us into 4th place, to a cup final, and most likely into the latter stages of the Europa league.
This is a process, and the board would have known this when they appointed him. Sarri does have other formations he uses – 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 were both used at Napoli – but he wants his teams to master one before he uses the other. Against Man City in the league he made few tactical tweaks. But he has never abandoned his philosophy and never will.
So if you’re waiting for Sarri to do what other Chelsea coaches do, and adapt his tactics or formation to suit his players, you’ll be waiting a long time. He’d rather lose his job doing it his way, than compromise to get results.
If – and it’s a big if – Sarri is allowed to implement his philosophy, not only will we see arguably the best footballing side ever seen at Stamford Bridge, but in all likelihood we’ll have a side once again challenging for the top honours – Premier League and Champions League – on a consistent basis, and Chelsea will be back at the top of English football.
That, for me, is worth waiting for.
By PGCFC001 – Follow me on Twitter
(Photos: Getty Images)