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Chelsea vs. Napoli and the Sarri standoff: How we got here

Cherchez la femme, the French say. I say money makes the world go around.

ACF Fiorentina v SSC Napoli - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

The seemingly paralyzed negotiations between Chelsea and Napoli have reached the point where actual harm is being done to Chelsea’s long-term interests.

With the transfer window slowly eroding, with players reporting for pre-season training, with the need for some stability and planning more urgent than ever … nothing. No movement. Just a series of increasingly unbelievable tweets from the failed oracle of Italy, Alfredo Pedullà.

As it stands right now, Antonio Conte is poised to take charge of training on Monday, even though nobody actually believes that he’ll manage Chelsea next season.

How did we get here? Why is Conte still employed? Why can’t can’t we pry Maurizio Sarri loose from the iron fist of Aurelio De Laurentiis?

We got here because Conte and Chelsea management lost faith in each other. Without trust, without faith, no relationship can function. So he’s out. He’s not going to resign, but Chelsea certainly want him out.

We got here because for the last few years Chelsea have pinched their pennies like a Championship club. Roman Abramovich was an early advocate for Financial Fair Play. After sinking in the area of £1 billion into the club and carrying its debt separately, he wants it to become self-sustaining. He made Marina Granovskaia the capo di tutti capi because she has the business chops to make it happen.

That single-mindedness has taken over the club’s direction, arguably to its harm at times. Like now.

Which brings us to the second question; why is Conte still employed?

The answer to that is — money. Not his buyout, though. As much as we apparently wanted to also avoid spending those millions, Chelsea are going to have to pay him off one way or another. The option to keep him seems self-destructive, since key players like Hazard, Willian and Fabregas have rather openly made their feelings known about him since the end of the season.

Chelsea would argue that he’s a fallback option. If we can’t get Sarri (or another suitable candidate) then Conte is poised to carry on as before. If that seems like an improbable proposition, then read on!

Our third question: why can’t we pry Sarri loose from the iron fist of Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis? See the answer to question No.2. Money.

De Laurentiis wants it. He thinks we have it. And he believes he’s in a strong position to extract it from us. Let’s remember that De Laurentiis’ family company took over Napoli in 2004, when the club declared bankruptcy and played in Italy’s third division, Serie C1. By 2010 he had made the club self-sufficient. But he’s never lost sight of the financial hard times. He’s fiercely protective of Napoli’s bottom line.

Chelsea should know that by now. In 2013 we wanted Edinson Cavani, who had a €60m release clause. We wouldn’t pay it (instead making creative offers like a swap for Fernando Torres + €30m). PSG paid the full buyout and off he went to Paris. And then there are our repeated failed attempts to buy Kalidou Koulibaly on the cheap. No dice. De Laurentiis gets maximum value from his assets. When Juventus wanted Gonzalo Higuain in 2016, they had to pay the full €90m buyout fee.

But once again, we seem to be underestimating De Laurentiis’ resolve. We wouldn’t pay Sarri’s full €8m buyout. We waited for the clause to expire, apparently believing that once De Laurentiis signed Carlo Ancelotti and had to pay two coaches he’d be motivated to sell Sarri at a reduced price.

Which brings us back to why Conte is still employed. Apparently, he’s a negotiating ploy. If De Laurentiis can be led to believe that Conte is still a viable option for Chelsea, then he’ll be more willing to bend a bit in negotiations.

Except that De Laurentiis shows every sign of seeing through the charade. With training camp beginning and the season just a month away, he sees time as being on his side. Chelsea are under pressure. He’s more than happy to pay two coaches if it eventually results in a multi-million euro payday. Paying pennies to get pounds, as it were.

Given his nature, it’s easy to believe the story that Jorginho-to-Manchester City is held up because De Laurentiis hopes he can get more than City’s offered €55m. Maybe he hopes to parlay Sarri + a player into even more money from Chelsea.

There’s a counter-argument to all of this. It holds that De Laurentiis doesn’t really care about the money or about possible deals. What he cares about is the personal slight of the most successful coach in his tenure jumping ship. We know he’s an emotional man. It’s possible that he just wants to punish Sarri for betraying him.

It makes sense. It may even play a part in this.

But every single thing about the way De Laurentiis has run Napoli since dragging a bankrupt club from the third division in 2004 to the (near) pinnacle of Italian football suggests that this is about money. Lest we forget, he’s a movie producer (i.e. the money man) and comes from a family of film producers, which includes the legendary Dino De Laurentiis.

Yes, he’s passionate. But he’s also a canny and unyielding negotiator. He proves it time and again. And time and again Chelsea appear to underestimate his resolve.

Which is why we are where we are today. Losing a game of brinksmanship.

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