Part 1 in this article series argued why Maurizio Sarri should stay at Chelsea. But going from Napoli to Chelsea has been far from an easy journey for the former banker. In this part, I take a look at the reason why Chelsea are right to part company with Sarri, despite his achievements in his first season.
Part 2: The Case against Maurizio Sarri
SACK-ument #1: Sarriball will not work in the PL.
You’ve probably been asked it before, but:
“Did you even watch Napoli last season?”
First used by #SarriIn as the main reason to why he is worth giving time, it was ironically adopted by #SarriOut after games where Chelsea were far from pleasing to the eye.
His style have received a lot of criticism, most of it rather unintelligent, as for instance the Jorginho vs Kanté debate. (If his tactics require a regista, that is not Kanté!). What he can’t escape though, is the fact Chelsea have at times looked vulnerable and been played wide-open, and Sarri’s unsuccessful response-rate to going under has not been helped by his formational stubbornness, always remembered for that toothless Barkley/Kovacic 62nd minute substitution. Based on his first season, it is fair to question whether Sarriball can work in the Premier League: It took a couple of months, but as soon as the opposition found out how to press (especially) Jorginho, Chelsea looked clueless and confused, unable to respond, and ran into form resembling a team fighting relegation. Despite an okay end to the season, we never fully recovered.
His supporters will argue a full pre-season will take us up another level, to where Guardiola’s City are having success with a somewhat similar style. But the risky build-up play will continue to be pressed with Premier League’s physicality and determination, and even Sarri’s supporters acknowledge that this squad needs a big injection of quality to be able to stand off that press. Are we willing, and able, to invest to get there? Or is our best option to have pragmatic managers capable of working with what we’ve got?
There is also the notion that this light-hearted and rather relaxed Chelsea squad is not the easiest to motivate, especially when enjoying is compromised for suffering. Players like David Luiz and Eden Hazard have spoken of how they “like this kind of football”–sure, technical players like to keep the ball instead of chasing it, but how deep are they really willing to dig when push comes to shove? It will require hours on the training pitch and in the video-room to truly master Sarriball, that seems certain. In any case, Sarri would need to hit the right motivational buttons, and judging by our dubious record of conceding goals right after half time, he will have a lot of work to do in that department.
SACK-ument #2: Poor top team record.
What characterized the Champions League winning Chelsea generation was being tough to face and hard to beat, and while there were banana skins against lowly sides here and there, we always seemed to be 120 % turned on for the big matches. This trait won us finals and trophies. But that tale abruptly stopped this season, best illustrated by this table:
This, for me, is a huge worry going forward. While it is unfair to give Sarri the entire blame for this, seeing as the players should be able to be up for big games regardless of pep-talk, and Drogba et al are not at Sarri’s disposal, I can’t think of another manager with a worse top team record in the Roman era. Whether Sarri is poor at rallying his troops for the big occasion or not, let’s agree that it’s harder to improve against the better sides than the poorer.
And let’s be clear: If we can’t beat the top sides, our habit of winning trophies stops right here, right now.
SACK-ument #3: Disinterest in fans, youth and club culture.
There were early signs of Sarri being a rather untraditional character, when he was asked the question all Chelsea fans were eager to hear: Who will be his Chelsea captain?
“I do not think who is captain is important”
Not exactly harmony in the ears of Chelsea fans, who for more than a decade have cherished the Captain, Leader, Legend trademark of John Terry. And it turned worse, maybe even flat out strange, when Willian proudly got to wear the armband for the first time away at PAOK in the Europa League, and Sarri had the chance to congratulate his player in the post-match interview:
“I don’t remember who was the captain at the beginning of the game. Who was the captain?”
You’re joking, right?
This can’t be said by someone who understands how important politics and ‘stakeholder management’ of fans, media, board and owner is at a club like Chelsea. Had there been improvement underway, this would be written off as cultural misunderstandings in the beginning, and quickly forgotten.
But there have been enough episodes to indicate it has in fact worsened, be it the treatment of club captain Gary Cahill, or his reluctance to play Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, resulting in us potentially losing out on extending “CHO’s” contract. A little more smartness along the way, they would have signed that contract months ago, and Sarri would have saved himself a transfer request and several tough questions.
When Sarri finally bowed to fan pressure, it was seen as no testament to him that Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek were integral in turning our, and his, season around. Some may argue they have become better players under Sarri, while others will say more game-time would have improved them even more. Regardless, you have to question if someone who overlooked such talented players for so long is the right man to maximize our academy talent output. Which, transfer ban or not, will be a major focus for Chelsea in the years to come.
And in the final Premier League match at Stamford Bridge, Sarri’s disconnection with fans culminated, when he became the first manager in recent years not to join the players on their traditional lap of appreciation.
All could have been handled so much better. One can only hope that Sarri soon will learn to handle club affairs less awkwardly in the future.
In Part 3 to be published tomorrow, I will argue why it could be right to hire Frank Lampard now, and will also conclude on the tough decision our successful owner Roman Abramovich is facing.
Stay tuned! And follow my new account on Twitter @balance_bridge for more.