A doomed marriage: What went wrong between Chelsea and Maurizio Sarri

A doomed marriage: Chelsea players bored by training and Maurizio Sarri refused lie-ins, he alienated fringe players, his smoking jarred with club, fans never warmed to dull football and he hated media duties

  • It turns out Maurizio Sarri’s relationship with Chelsea was doomed from the start
  • Behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge, they rubbed each other up the wrong way
  • Sarri delivered on achieving the targets he was set but fans didn’t warm to him
  • The Italian’s smoking habit jarred inside an elite sporting operation at Chelsea
  • He loathed his media and commercial duties, and dodged them when he could

In the end there was no shortage of smoke but simply no fire where Maurizio Sarri and Chelsea were concerned.

They just did not get along. Perhaps they were never meant for each other.

Sarri could deliver the sparkling football and endless victories they craved but Chelsea were not the club he thought they were, with their remote owner, a strangely sparse executive tier and players who have long since understood how the manager is the most disposable of them all.

It turns out Maurizio Sarri’s relationship with Chelsea wasn’t a match made in heaven

Behind the scenes, they all rubbed each other up the wrong way and this decision to part amicably after one turbulent season is surely for the best.

Sarri delivered on his brief to lead Chelsea back into the Champions League and they helped him win his first major trophy. Few supporters really warmed to him, particularly the hardcore of match-goers.

They never connected in the way they did with Antonio Conte, Jose Mourinho or Carlo Ancelotti, the three managerial success stories of the trigger-happy Roman Abramovich era.

Conte threw himself into the crowd when his team scored. Ancelotti exuded a personal warmth and Mourinho delivered unprecedented success on the pitch while proving a pioneer in the art of self-promotion.

Sarri had zero interest in self-promotion. There is not a trace of vanity about him. Perhaps this ought to be applauded as an antidote to modern society but a modern football club expects some degree of charm or charisma from its frontman in the age of brand expansion.

Sarri delivered on achieving the targets and won his first major trophy as a manager last month

He is the face of the club but Sarri often cut a curious figure on the touchline, chewing and sucking on a cigarette butt.

A whiff of nicotine would trail behind him as he trundled around the training ground or the corridors of Stamford Bridge and this jarred inside an elite sporting operation. He is not the first modern Chelsea manager to smoke. Gianluca Vialli, Roberto di Matteo and Ancelotti liked a cigarette but not to the same degree.

Sarri loathed his media, commercial and ambassadorial duties, and dodged them when he could. Gianfranco Zola would be summoned to replace him.

Or he forgot because they were never in the centre of his thoughts. Chelsea were reprimanded by the Premier League for missing media deadlines when he locked his players in the dressing room for an inquest of more than an hour after a 4-0 defeat at Bournemouth.

The post-season match in the United States against New England Revolution was the epitome of this.

Sarri did not lift a finger to promote the charity venture planned by Abramovich and Revs owner Robert Kraft to raise funds and awareness to fight anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination. 

Few Chelsea supporters really warmed to him, particularly the hardcore of match-goers

They raised more than £3million but the manager grumbled about the game getting in the way of preparations for the Europa League final, failed to attend any of the media engagements in Boston and did not join a visit to the city’s Holocaust Memorial or a formal dinner at Kraft’s mansion because he was feeling unwell.

Sarri would not applaud the travelling fans after an away game. One of his many superstitions was to avoid stepping on the pitch.

He had to be cajoled by club officials to lead out the team at Wembley for the pre-match ceremony in the FA Community Shield, his first game.

He did, however, realise when the supporters turned against him in mid-season with protest chants and jeering Jorginho, the player so integral to his tactical system.

Few could see why Sarri indulged the Italy international who followed him from Napoli at a cost of £56million, to the extent where he marginalised N’Golo Kante, who had been the best midfielder in the Premier League for three years.

He promised to restore ‘fun’ to Chelsea when he arrived with great fanfare to replace Conte and the season started so well. 

But the football became dull as soon as opponents fathomed out how they could drop deep and let Chelsea pass sideways until they came to a standstill or cause them problems on the turnover by hustling the supply lines around Jorginho.

He loathed his media, commercial and ambassadorial duties, and dodged them when he could 

When the results turned, the board and the players, like the fans, were left wondering why the manager did not seem inclined to react and make adjustments to his trusted strategy.

Sarri was not disliked. Indeed he has a sharp sense of humour — when asked if he had ever tried to quit smoking he said he had once quit for a couple of hours — but many came to find his training regime a drag. 

It could be tedious and repetitive, heavy with team shape and pattern of play in the Italian tradition and very similar in that respect to Conte.

Often the monotony was enhanced by Sarri’s superstitions to follow the same process every week. At one stage, his determination to play eight v eight training games every day with the same 16 players left spare players such as Victor Moses with nothing to do but run up and down the side of the pitch with a fitness coach.

He preferred to train in the afternoons, which disrupted players’ lifestyle patterns, and those with children suddenly found they had much less family time.

Sarri ordered players to report early on the morning of an evening game to practise set-pieces.

Sarri preferred to train in the afternoons, which disrupted players’ lifestyle patterns

Lie-ins were out of the question and by the time kick-off arrived they had been up and on the go for 12 hours. Those not central to his plans were completely ignored. His treatment of popular club captain Gary Cahill went down very badly with many.

Another player claimed he had been made to feel like one of the inflatable dummies representing opponents in training exercises and undertook his own pre-season-style fitness regime to get himself back into shape.

Such things might be tolerated when the team was winning, but Chelsea’s form began sliding and some players, while making the right noises in public, were demanding change and airing their discontent in private.

After an insipid defeat at home against Manchester United in the FA Cup in February the dissent broke open in the dressing room.

Voices were raised and Sarri was criticised for his tactical stubbornness.

The season was in danger of falling apart. The crushing defeat at Bournemouth was followed by a 6-0 thrashing at Manchester City.

The manager came close to the sack and might have gone had there been a convenient replacement available. Zola, one of the obvious candidates, was hospitalised with gallstones.

Kepa refused to be substituted having required treatment for an injury in the Carabao Cup final

Marina Granovskaia delivered Gonzalo Higuain on an expensive and complicated loan deal in January but he was making little impact and making few friends with an aloof attitude. He did not appear to be the missing link.

The dressing room revolt forced some minor tactical changes but then came the Carabao Cup final when Chelsea rose to the occasion and matched City, only for the Kepa Arrizabalaga bust-up to eclipse a positive display.

Sarri exploded in rage on the touchline when Kepa refused to be substituted having twice required treatment for an injury.

The manager ripped off his tracksuit top and stormed off towards the tunnel. Kepa stayed on while Chelsea lost on penalties and Sarri was stunned to find the club inclined to side with the keeper, concerned about triggering another Diego Costa situation, rather than back the manager’s authority.

Conte had ostracised Costa soon after winning the title in 2017, which knocked millions off his value as they tried to sell the striker. Sarri retreated into his inner circle more than ever and, with such angst behind the scenes, there was probably never any way back from here.

Club insiders thought his mind had already been made up to find a way back to Italy even before his surprise appearance in Vanity Fair where he confessed it had been hard to live so far from his elderly parents and the pull of home was strong in an interview designed to address doubts of Juventus fans.

The relentless nature of the English season, with four trophies to chase and no mid-season break, and his own committed approach to the job meant there was little spare time. Conte often dashed home to Italy during international breaks but Sarri would plough on with his work.

When Juventus provided the opportunity he told Chelsea he wanted to leave. For someone who started his career coaching in amateur football the chance to coach the Old Lady of Italian football was too good to miss.

Chelsea, with their transfer ban looming, had been starting to think it might be worth sticking with Sarri for one more year but they were not going to stand in his way after what had been a testing campaign. And so it is over and, in the end, with little acrimony.

Sarri will pursue a glorious opportunity and Chelsea bank £7m in compensation and set about making another fresh start, this time with links to their glittering recent past with echoes of what Bayern Munich, AC Milan and Ajax have done. Petr Cech will be installed in an executive role with first-team responsibilities.

Cech could soon team up again with Frank Lampard, who is set to replace Sarri. Didier Drogba is a visible presence in the stands at Stamford Bridge. Joe Cole and Ashley Cole are taking coaching qualifications with the support of the club, as did Lampard and John Terry.

Lampard does not boast the same wealth of coaching experience but understands Chelsea’s inner workings which would be a start and a connection, through his assistant Jody Morris, to the club’s academy.

At a time when a transfer ban looms this could be vital as Abramovich searches for No 12 in his endless quest for his perfect manager.

Meanwhile, Sarri joins the heap of Chelsea rejects.

Share this article

Source: Read Full Article