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First Press Conference: Sarri on Eden Hazard, boring transfers, and fun football

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Maurizio Sarri is here to have fun and chew nicotine gum ... and he’s all out of gum.

Chelsea Unveil New Head Coach Maurizio Sarri... Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

The press conference began with Sarri speaking in English about how big a pleasure it is for him to be in London and in Premier League which, at the moment, is the best league in the world according to him. He then went on to apologize for his command of the English language, or lack thereof, and that he’d be answering the questions in Italian instead and hopes that in a few weeks, he is able to improve upon this aspect and answer in English instead.

You can watch a replay of the press conference on Chelsea TV:

The first question was about the delay in appointing him as Chelsea head coach and whether that has affected the preparation or if it’s something that he had been planning for sometime. Sarri gave a fairly diplomatic answer to this question, saying that it was a complicated situation with Napoli that needed to be solved, thus he wasn’t planning anything.

He further went on to say that he knew Chelsea were interested in him and that the situation was resolved only a few days ago. Thus, there are concerns with regards to lack of time, but it’s something that he intends to solve together with his staff.

Moving on, the next question was the standard softball about the Premier League, and whether he had talked to other coaches such as the man who replaced him at Napoli, Carlo Ancelotti.

“Well for me this is a difficult challenge, but a fascinating one. I know it will be very difficult and here we have the strongest coaches in the world and the strongest players in the world. It is difficult, but I have not asked anyone anything. I want to have this experience by myself, including mistakes. The Premier League is different from Serie A because it is stronger while Serie A is tactical but here there are stronger players.

“However I need to have fun to do well and I have noticed that in the last year something has changed in the Premier League as well. It is not a typical English style of playing and this has given me confidence but I know it will be difficult.”

Speaking of world class coaches, Sarri was asked about his opinion on his friend, Pep Guardiola and not his friend, Jose Mourinho. Here is what he had to say about both the managers.

On Pep:

“Well he is a class act, a champion and a genius. It is difficult to explain his insights. Clearly he had some difficulties in the first year, but 100 points in PL is extraordinary, might not be repeated. For us we need to fill in a gap. I hope last year was an occasional gap.”

On Jose:

“He has won everything and I think that is enough as a manager. He has won everything repeatedly and I think someone who has this track record does not need a description. We are talking about a world level manager. I esteem Pep, and the other managers but I am friends with Pep because my style is closest to Guardiola.“

Of course, no press conference can be complete without transfer talk. Thus, the next question was regarding the futures of Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois and Willian, all three who are linked with moves away from the club and Gonzalo Higuain, a player who is linked with a move to the club.

Sarri’s answer was fairly reserved stating that he’d obviously like to keep the best players at the club as that is what every manager and club wants to do. Regarding Higuain however, Sarri said that he, as a manager, is bored with the transfer window. According to him, he is more of a head coach rather than a manager and thus, his focus is always on the pitch and what he can do to improve the players, rather than focusing on the transfers. Incidentally, this is a paradigm that Conte emphasized quite often as well, though while also having more of an opinion on the market itself.

“Well, clearly, we would always like to keep the strongest players, this is what any manager and club wants to do. We will have to see what the transfer market goes. But I would like to clarify that I see myself as more of a field manager, a pitch manager rather than a general manager. I think that I am one of the few managers who is bored by the transfer market. I don’t want to talk about the transfer market and I’m not that interested in it. I think that our task as managers is growing the players we have.”

Music to the Chelsea hierarchy’s ear, certainly, that answer!

Less sonorous may have been his emphasis on fun and style over setting trophy goals. While Sarri obviously wants to be competitive and go far in ever competition the club enters, his personal objective is to have fun. One of the biggest gifts you can receive in life, he says, is to have fun while doing your job, so he’s certainly grateful for that.

The next question was regarding what kind of football will Sarri bring to Chelsea and if the Chelsea fans can expect entertaining football.

“I hope so, I really hope so. Clearly, football can be entertaining or not but much depends on the players. A good manager is something whose team has a lot of physicality otherwise there has to be a lot of technical players. This depends on the characteristics of the final squad but I am convinced that if a team has fun often the fans have fun too. This is very important and then there are the high level objectives as well but we must start by having fun. This is important for our fans.”

Conte’s one word was work. Sarri’s, so far at least, is fun.

It’s good to see that Sarri is not a purist in the sense that he only desires technical players but he also sees the importance of having physicality in the squad. However, the squad that finished 5th last season still needs some adjustments and Sarri had this to say regarding his transfer targets.

“I cannot name names, because I don’t know. I spoke with the club and ideally I think that a pinch of quality was lacking in our centre-halves [translation error: midfielders] for a certain type of play. Of course, I cannot change 20 players, I must adapt and then I will see if we change some thing in my game. Because of their characteristics.“

One common theme amongst most of the players Chelsea have been linked with this summer is their familiarity with Sarri’s complex system. The idea is that players like Higuain, Rugani, anyone from Napoli are being targeted as a workaround to the amount of time that it will take for the rest of the squad to get used to the new system.

According to Sarri, this familiarity process should not take more than three months at the worst as at Napoli, that’s the amount of time which was needed but he hopes that he has improved on this aspect in the last three years.

“Well it depends. In my previous experiences I needed a long time. Last time I needed three months in Napoli and we suffered in the three matches and then went along a positive path. I hope this initial time can be shortened and I hope the quality of the team will help me with this while I’m still building the team.”

Speaking of quality in the squad, Eden Hazard’s future at Chelsea is still in doubt but most are hoping that appointment of Sarri can be enough to convince Eden to stay. This is what Sarri had to say about our Belgian talisman:

“I was not talking about having fun on the pitch, during the week and want to win matches. Hazard is a high level player and I think he is one of the top two or three European players. I would like to have fun during the week with him, this would mean good results and being competitive at the end of the season.

“I hope I will manage to improve him, this is very difficult as he is already at a very high level. With Mertens it is different. Dries had always been an external striker, everybody thought by necessity he became a high level player but it’s a different situation. These are two top players. I hope I will improve Hazard too, but this will be very difficult.”

Last but not the least, Sarri was also asked Chelsea’s tendency to sack managers and if it’s something that worries him. To which the Italian replied that he is not worried and he hopes that he can work well with the rest of squad and that he can win a few trophies as well.

“If I was someone who always worried probably I would do another job. Our job means risks but also a lot of satisfaction. I don’t want to be afraid.

“With respect to the rest, I haven’t won anything but in Serie A nobody has won anything due to the dominance of Juventus. For three years in a row we achieved records [with respect to Napoli] with points. I think that we have worked very well and the difference in working well and winning is often minimum. I hope I will be able to fill in this gap. I hope so.”

-Maurizio Sarri; Source: Chelsea TV

That’s all, folks. That’s everything of note from Sarri’s first press conference as the Chelsea head coach. Fun, fun, fun, and lots to learn.

Next on the agenda: Australia!