A balanced fan perspective on the topic splitting Chelsea supporters in two.
Football Twitter is turning Chelsea fans against each other with intense discussions over whether Italian manager Maurizio Sarri is hero or zero. Supporters on either side of the debate are passionately carrying their case for why they are right and you are wrong, not very interested in hearing what the others have to say. When 140 characters are enough to express your opinion, there is simply not space for balance or context. The trend looks something like this: We follow those that agree with us, block those that don’t, and end up in echo chambers where perspective only happens when our comrades mistakenly click “retweet” instead of “block”.
Tensions about to cool down as the season closes? Think again. Even before Sarri’s first year is over, multiple media sources has it that Chelsea consider parting with the Italian tactician in order to make way for a club legend just recently turned football manager, Frank Lampard. And as you would expect, #SarriIn vs #SarriOut enters beast-mode on Twitter.
Will Roman wield the axe again, or does he still believe in Sarri? Here, I try my best to give a balanced perspective on what is the right and likely outcome …
Part 1: The Case for Maurizio Sarri
If you told Chelsea fans 10 months ago that Maurizio Sarri would see off Manchester United, Spurs and Arsenal for CL qualification, as well as getting narrowly beaten on penalties in the League Cup final (by the best team in the country), AS WELL AS potentially winning the EL against a London rival, everyone — and I mean everyone — would have bitten your hand off.
SARRI-gument #1: Delivered the goods.
Champions League qualification certainly was the most important target Chelsea set for him, and Maurizio Sarri more than delivered on that with 3rd place, two cup finals, and a trophy in his first season. (I know it is yet to be played, but hey, it is Arsenal!)
Former #9 Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink summed up Sarri’s season with typical accuracy:
“If they win [the Europa League] it’s been a magnificent season. If they lose that, it’s been a good season”.
Either way, no club could sack their manager after such a debut year. No club but Chelsea that is …
SARRI-gument #2: Early promise of something great.
Sarri was not hired for his trophy cabinet (empty), but for his lauded style of football, dubbed ‘Sarriball’ by journalists. He arrived several days into pre-season, and his best players returned very late from the World Cup while the season kicked off unusually early. It was a tough start for any manager looking to establish a new style of football, let alone one that relies heavily on repeated drilling on the training pitch. But his massive handicap was quickly played down as Chelsea remarkably won their six opening fixtures in style, most fans got really excited, and we did not lose until November 24!
Which was also a Premier League record. What a start!
Given the difficult pre-season, that is an impressively quick way to implement your tactics. Even if things got worse as the season progressed, when fixture frequency and media pressure intensified, isn’t it normal to experience that at this level? As been tweeted multiple times already, both Guardiola and Klopp took a season to fully settle. They got time to drill their tactics, money to rebuild their squad, and could work in relative peace knowing they had the owners’ full support. Sarri has not had such luxury, although we did set transfer fee record #1 and #3 with the signings of Kepa and Jorginho, but he certainly delivered from day one with a hampered pre-season and a squad that was used to playing diametrically opposite football for the past couple of seasons.
Sarri’s start was so good, it was almost too good to be true. That should not be forgotten.
SARRI-gument #3: Turned it around under pressure.
Our poor mid-season form culminated with that nightmare 6–0 demolition at the Etihad. It was the ultimate low-point, and a certain fan up in Derbyshire was far from impressed:
At that point most people were convinced his days were numbered. @DanLevene even made a “Sarri sack tree” to project the timing of what seemed an inevitable outcome — odds were 2/1 at that time. But despite also losing at home to Man United in the FA Cup, Sarri regained momentum by beating Spurs twice and taking us to the League Cup final. And even the most hardcore #SarriOut’s must admit to have enjoyed that confident semi-final penalty shoot-out win at the Bridge!
Sarri had to compromise on his style, and adapted to a more pragmatic approach, guiding us through to the promised land of Top 4. There were at times “fuck Sarriball” chants and constant media pressure, but unlike his predecessors who never lasted their rough patches, Sarri was honest, open and genuine in his response. To be able to survive such a heavy period with all that media pressure is a big testament to his managerial qualities, and especially relevant at a club like Chelsea, where pressure is the only constant.
Only the most optimistic Sarri supporters would think top 4 was within reach after the Man City humiliation, and to even finish 3rd seemed almost unthinkable at that point. Yes, our competitors switched off when it mattered the most, but while cup competitions can be about luck and good fortune, the saying has it that “the League table never lies”.
He turned it around when pressure was at its heaviest.
Part 2: The case against Maurizio Sarri will be published tomorrow. Stay tuned …
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