The Chelsea fanbase right now is divided into two camps.
Sarri in or Sarri Out.
I’ve written several articles in defence of head coach Maurizio Sarri. I advised to be patient with him, and that given time and backing he’d produce something special at Chelsea. I stuck with him through all the bad performances and defeats, I defended him, I defended his use of Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ethan Ampadu and other youth or squad players – even when it felt uncomfortable.
Because I don’t want to give up on a manager. I want us to build something with Maurizio Sarri which lasted. I believed – and still believe – in his football philosophy.
But in the last few weeks, my belief on whether he is the right coach for the long term future of Chelsea has been brought into serious question.
Maurizio Sarri as Chelsea head coach was always intended as a long-term appointment. Just before he was appointed I did my research, and I thought that given time and backing, he’d build something special here. We all know how much our squad has needed a big rebuild – and that it was never going to happen in one summer.
Last summer was a good start, and this continued in January. Jorginho, Kovacic, Kepa, Pulisic, Higuain – all good and necessary signings and improvements to our squad. And I believe this coming summer that process will continue and be accelerated.
We have Willian with only 18 months left on his contract, and according to several media outlets, will ask to go if he’s not given a 3 year extension, which Chelsea, with their over 30’s policy, are refusing. PSG and Barcelona are rumoured to be interested. So he could leave. Pedro will only have a year left too. David Luiz, Olivier Giroud and Gary Cahill are out of contract. Eden Hazard will likely go to Madrid. Davide Zappacosta and Danny Drinkwater are likely to be sold, as are some of the loan army.
This not only gives us a substantial transfer kitty, but some big holes to fill in our squad. The rebuild for the summer is on.
And when I saw rebuild I don’t just mean transfers. It’s vital our manager, whoever they are, actively integrates the likes of Reece James, Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ethan Ampadu.
The question is, which manager should we trust to oversee that rebuild. To bring in new players, and integrate the best academy and youth products.
And I’m fast coming to the belief we cannot entrust any of this to Maurizio Sarri.
I love Maurizio Sarri’s football philosophy. That won’t ever change. And I will always believe that given time and backing he can be a huge success here – and let’s face it, he hasn’t been helped by the squad he was given.
What I’ve increasingly become disturbed by, is his total unwillingness to change his first choice XI, even when we have catastrophic results, players are in poor form, or not good enough – and when we have legitimate alternatives available.
Marcus Alonso is the prime example. But you could make a case for David Luiz, Willian, Ross Barkley, Pedro and even Antonio Rudiger all being dropped. And there’s talented, worthy replacements for all of them.
Emerson, Andreas Christensen, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek (when fit) and Ethan Ampadu have all earned a shot to play regularly – and given recent results and performances, could do no worse than the current starting XI.
But as he said himself in his recent press conferences, Sarri will not change the personnel, despite overwhelming evidence that he should.
For example, Hudson-Odoi and Ampadu didn’t even make the Europa league team/squad for the first leg v Malmo.
And that’s not to mention his repeated substitutions of the same players in the same positions in the same minutes of games, which have no impact on the game.
People were actually predicting the minutes and the names of the substitutes against Manchester United, and they weren’t far wrong. Indeed, the one they got wrong was the bizarre substitution of Cesar Azpilicueta for David Zappacosta at RB, when 2-0 down trying to win the game.
We were warned Sarri was stubborn. But this isn’t being stubborn, it’s plain, old fashioned, bad management.
Sarri mentioned at the start of the season his friend Pep Guardiola had told him to only focus on developing 14 players this season. The problem is, Sarri has clearly picked players to develop who aren’t up to standard. But even when this has demonstrated, and he has alternatives, he is sticking with the same team and same formation.
The only conclusion I can draw is that Sarri is not just more stubborn than anyone anticipated, but doesn’t believe in a lot of our squad, or most of our academy/youth products. It appears like he will never give players like Reece James, Mason Mount or the youth in our current squad a real opportunity – and he’ll drive them out of the club.
On top of this, he simply has no alternatives when teams set up to stop his system working – which teams seem to do by playing a diamond, man marking Jorginho, and then attacking down the flanks – and it seems to work every time.
Before anyone says ‘there is no plan B’ or bring in Pep Guardiola comparisons, I’ll remind people that Pep Guardiola rotated players and tried different formations in his first season – and still does – without changing his philosophy. And Sarri himself has used other formations than 4-3-3 in his career – including 4-2-3-1 at Napoli.
Not rotating/dropping players or swapping things up when results and performances are this bad is beyond stubbornness. It’s poor management, plain and simple. It makes no sense whatsoever.
And it’s the same with his substitutions. They never influence the game in any tangible way.
When you consider all these factors, they are not only is it hindering our chances of Champions League football and rebuild with players we really want or need – our last chance for two years, if we get a transfer ban – it’s also going to drive these academy players away in the end.
If Sarri continues with the same line up, he’ll get the same results, and Chelsea could end up not winning anything, and finishing outside even the European places, yet alone Champions League places.
If Sarri were willing to switch it up and trust some of these players, maybe even switch to his alternate 4-2-3-1 formation, I’d still be happy to back him – I’d have confidence he believed in our squad, and our young talent and was able to adapt in small ways, just as Pep did with his formations and team selections.
And given his history, there is a chance he may well still do that. We have to wait and see. But he hasn’t got long to change things up.
It’s impossible to ignore the fact our players aren’t fit for purpose, and many have a weak mentality, and too much power. We have no leaders in our squad, and that too is costing us. And, of course, it’s quite clear we need a director of football and coherent long-term football strategy, and have done for some time. The problems at Chelsea run way deeper than one head coach.
But this head coach is proving way too stubborn, inflexible, and potentially damaging to our academy players and short and long-term future. Results are abysmal, not changing, and will probably deteriorate. And this is largely because he won’t change his team, won’t give opportunities to players – academy and otherwise – who deserve them, and won’t be flexible in his formation (even to the extent he has been before).
He may be unlucky in being appointed last summer, rather than in 2013 or even this coming summer. But that’s how football is. The reality is, Maurizio Sarri has always been his way, and he isn’t going to change now. That being the case, it’s almost certain that his tenure at Chelsea is likely to be over soon.
The club need a head coach known for giving chances to academy products, plays people on merit, can man-manage, knows how to win trophies and plays an attractive style of football – a man who can oversee our rebuild and take us forward.
I’m not going to speculate on who that will be. Maybe it could still be Maurizio Sarri – but there are now legitimate doubts about that.
Not wanting another managerial sacking – which I really don’t – is an insufficient reason to keep him in post. I don’t take any pleasure in advocating for a new manager, or do it with any relish whatsoever. But we have to at least consider that it may be what needs to happen.
It won’t solve the bigger and deeper issues at our club, that will take longer and bigger decisions – but to save this season, and above all, the prospects of keeping our best young prospects to build a long term future, it’s increasingly becoming the only option.
I’m not quite in the Sarri out tribe just yet – though I admit in moments of frustration and high emotion I may have expressed those sentiments, in particularly on social media.
But it is true that Sarri has some serious questions to answer to save his job, and prove himself worthy of the Chelsea hotseat for the long term.
(Photos: Getty Images)