No manager gets to leave Stamford Bridge on their own terms, except for Maurizio Sarri.
The Italian’s departure back to his homeland after only a short nine month tenure in charge at the most predictably unpredictable club in English football will go down as one of the strangest in Chelsea’s recent history regarding managers.
Finishing third, securing Champions League qualification and adding another piece of silverware to the club’s bulging trophy cabinet seemed to many outside the club to be a more than satisfactory maiden season in West London. However, there is no denying despite his achievements, the former bank clerk failed to win over a large section of the fanbase.
Whether it was down to his laid back demeanour, his mostly unquotable pre and post match press conferences or due to results that soured during the winter months, a quick rise in dislike towards the 60-year-old was evident within the mood of Stamford Bridge, at worst turning to chants of abuse from sections of the fans at home to Manchester United in the FA Cup and away to Cardiff in late March.
Maurizio had his flaws which were well documented and scrutinised to a microscopic level. His stubbornness in regards to his tactics, style of play and team selection, which I wrote several articles on. Predictable substitutions and starts for out of form players created an unexciting air of predictability around Chelsea which did leave a despondent mood within the support whenever team news would break online.
It took Sarri until late March at home to Brighton to finally make the changes many had been calling for weeks previously. Giving chances to the fringe players of Emerson, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andreas Christensen helped infuse a freshness to the look of our play and improve the pace of Chelsea’s game.
It is curious to ponder if Sarri had made these changes earlier, specifically starting youth hopeful Hudson-Odoi and academy graduate Loftus-Cheek more when results soured whether Chelsea fans would’ve had more sympathy and given more patience to the Italian’s methods.
One of Sarri’s most hotly contested decisions from the get go was the much maligned concept of playing N’Golo Kanté “out of position” in a more advanced role, as new signing Jorginho sat as a deep lying playmaker as engine room for Chelsea’s creative play. This debate has gone back and forth and appeared to be one that could have overhauled Sarri’s plans by the level of scrutiny he was put under during the season’s most difficult periods.
However, it is undeniable that Kanté enjoyed his best season attacking wise, and became a goal threat from midfield. As well, Jorginho came good at the business end of the season and looked to be growing into English football, aided by his manager’s changes in team selection which allowed for an injection of movement which the midfielder had been missing for many months previously. This is one choice Sarri can feel personally vindicated on.
Another apparent blot on Sarri’s report card for 18/19 is the heavy defeats to Bournemouth and Manchester City. Both in their own right disastrous displays that made many turn and similarly make many believe the manager wasn’t cut out for a job at one of England’s biggest clubs.
However, football is a fickle game and people have short memories. It is easy to brush over the fact that in 17/18, on almost the same day 12 months previously saw Chelsea get demolished by Eddie Howe’s Cherries at Stamford Bridge in the second half; a one goal difference to Sarri’s calamity. Antonio Conte also oversaw a humiliating 4-1 defeat to an injury depleted Watford side a week later in early February. A 3-1 loss at home to Tottenham, an embarrassingly shallow and effortless 1-0 defeat at the Etihad and a last day debacle at St. James Park, losing 3-0 to a Newcastle side with nothing to play for.
People can try and spin Sarri’s two worst defeats as pure anomaly’s that are unique and symbolic of the failings of his tenure, but just a quick glance to his predecessor’s last season would show you that this group of players were capable to putting in horrendous performances before Sarri’s arrival.
Sarri did have one of the poorest records away from home against fellow top six sides, only managing to pick up one point on his final attempt away to Manchester United in April. In contrast it is fair to point out he was unbeaten against the top six at home, beating Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham and drawing to Manchester United and Liverpool.
Although it was late, Sarri should be credited for finally giving Loftus-Cheek the chance he needed to break into the first team and even with the untimely injury, looks to be right at home within the starting eleven and appears to be our best attacking outlet from midfield. The same can be said for Hudson-Odoi, although Sarri did make dismissive comments towards the 18-year-old’s England call-up nearly jeopardising the club’s position to convince the promising youngster to stay with his boyhood club.
Despite all the caveats and “ifs” and “buts” you can try to put over Chelsea’s achievements under a disliked manager, history will likely be kind to the cigarette smoking coach and what he was able to accomplish within a short space of time. His “failings” or inability to see past nine months, which appears solely to be of his own accord comes down to a deeper, much wider issue within the club and the culture that has been created.
It may be a tired line, but patience is a myth at Chelsea Football Club. And as extreme as it may sound, the managerial position appears to be an irrelevancy at Stamford Bridge.
Sarri’s appointment was a major departure from what Chelsea had regularly gone with under Roman Abramovich’s era in charge. Sarri was an ideas man, he didn’t come with a trophy-laden CV, he came off the back of developing and growing a Napoli side from 5th to 2nd in Serie A and transformed their style of play into one of the most exciting to watch in European football.
For that to work at Chelsea, he would’ve needed 18 months or more. Which appeared to be unbearable to a section of fans who seemed completely hostile at the first signs of trouble. With rumours of an inexperienced and younger manager about to take the reigns, the culture needs to change for Chelsea to move past the managerial merry-go-round and extreme short-term thinking that seems to be the default position.
And in many ways, people will tell you that the revolving door of managers hasn’t stopped the income of silverware and maybe there is a more mystical force at play here and Chelsea are a club that needs chaos to function, that stability itself would cause the club to crumble, as ludicrous as that may sound.
Though Chelsea are continuing to fall further behind the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool domestically and need to find a way to bridge that gap, and soon. Both of those clubs have invested in a manager’s vision long term, allowed both to make mistakes, shake up the squad and mould the club in their image. You know exactly that both City and Liverpool are moving in one direction, and that is forward.
There seems to be a lack of direction at Chelsea that appears to seep into all facets of the club’s management. From recruitment, to playing style, to the divide within the fanbase – a lot appears broken and not united and that needs to change if Chelsea are to move forward and modernise the approach we take.
But these a far bigger issues that go beyond Sarri, beyond any individual figure who stands in the dugout.
Overall though, personally despite some bumps in the road, it was short but sweet and I thank you Maurizio for your hard work and bringing us a great night against Arsenal in Baku.
Arrivederci Sarriball, it was nice knowing you.