The Italian replaced fellow countryman Antonio Conte at Chelsea.
Maurizio Sarri, a name which football fans were not accustomed to before his Napoli stint. There’s a reason behind it as the former Empoli manager did not enter Italian football with the same reputation as Carlo Ancelotti or Luis Enrique. He had his fair share of flaws and the tactician never tried to sugarcoat them, he kept himself as natural as he could. The 59-year-old has notoriously shunned television interviews, has had problems with the Italian FA and even with rival fans and managers. Now the master tactician has taken over the Chelsea job, replacing another Italian genius Antonio Conte.
But, quite apart from all his flaws, there are a lot of positives to take from the tactician who was a banker and started his career very late. Indeed, his journey to the top of Italian football is certainly something very unheard of. Starting his professional career as a banker by day and an amateur coach by night, Sarri struggled to find the balance between his work and passion in the early 1990s. The Italian took his amateur club to Italy’s fifth division and finally left his job to focus more on coaching. He got his big big break at the age of 53 when Empoli hired him after surviving a Serie B relegation playoff back in 2011/12.
Sarri has revolutionized Serie A since his arrival
In his first season at the club, he guided them to the playoffs, but they lost in the final, in his second season he took the club into the Italian top flight without breaking a sweat. Empoli became the smallest club amongst the Italian elite by all means and it was felt that they would go down within a year.
But, the master tactician had some other ideas, as Empoli finished with the second fewest goals conceded in the bottom half of the table and a respectable 15th position in the league, showcasing a new style of both defensive and attacking fluidity in their play. The pundits didn’t fail to take notice of Sarri’s masterclass as the man started to gain attention in Italian football.
His impressive feat with Empoli paved his way to one of Italy’s greatest clubs as he took over at Napoli in the summer of 2015. The decision was met with a lot of scepticism among fans and the media, even the God of Naples, Diego Maradona bashed the move and said he would struggle to finish mid-table.
Sarri is famous for his dynamic and positive style of football, focused mainly on high pressure, brisk passing and maintaining most of the possession. He is one of the rare managers who considered the transfer market as an option for the weak. He would always work with the bunch he had and develop them into world beaters.
At the time of his arrival at Napoli, the club had a very weak defence and needed immediate reinforcements to repair the backline. But, instead of turning to the transfer market, Sarri addressed the issues of his team on the training ground and the outcome was groundbreaking. The changes he made developed a side with the second best defensive record in the league, only behind Juventus.
Sarri (left) has developed a brand new style of play called the ‘Sarriball’
The development came more in view when Kalidou Koulibaly was deemed not good enough for Napoli by many people. The young Senegalese defender was very error-prone and did not have the capability to fit into Sarri’s playing style. But, the revolutionary manager spent hours on the training ground to develop the young defender into one of Europe’s elite and now clubs are after Napoli to get hold of his services. Sarri could have easily splashed the cash in the transfer market and replaced Koulibaly with someone more suitable, but that would not have done justice to his philosophy.
Not only Koulibaly, Sarri developed the whole squad into one of Europe’s elite, starting from Dries Mertens who played second fiddle to a younger Lorenzo Insigne. In his late 20s Mertens’ career had no spark left. But, with Sarri’s arrival, the Belgian adapted to his style of play and was played upfront making him one of the highest scoring strikers in Europe with 34 goals in a season.
He developed Insigne, who was struggling to find his feet under Rafa Benitez, delivering just five goals in two Serie A seasons, but with Sarri’s touch, he produced 40 in the next couple of years. The manager’s trademark style of using drones for better understanding of his defensive movements and the overall structure, improved the Napoli defence immensely.
He paid serious attention to certain things on the field, with set-pieces being one such very important aspect, as he used to spend hours training with his team on various types of set-pieces. Since his Sansovino days, he was popularly known as Mister 33 because of his 33 unique set-piece routines, as he guided the side from regional championships to Italy’s fourth tire.
Considering all these positive and groundbreaking factors, the manager seems tailor-made for Chelsea at the current point of time. Chelsea also has one of Europe’s best youth academies, but the Blues have failed to use that asset to their benefit as they hardly promote any talented youngsters. So, Sarri ticks all the right boxes for Chelsea and could be a great replacement for Conte.
But, there is definitely a different side to this story, Sarri has a persona of his own and his attitude sometimes lets him down with his recent misdemeanour of homophobic abuse to fellow manager Roberto Mancini, which incurred a fine of €20k along with a two-game ban in January.
Although, the 59-year old denied the homophobic abuse claims, he was banned for an insulting attitude towards a fellow manager. The Blues have had enough controversies with their former managers and that is why it is justified to say that they are taking a risk by appointing Sarri as Conte’s successor. However, Ancelotti taking over the Napoli job has paved the way for the Blues to snap up the Italian and has announced him to take over at the Bridge already.