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Sarri nixes Conte’s dietary and match prep restrictions in effort to boost morale

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A happy squad is a productive squad

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Photo by Ben Curtis - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

When Antonio Conte took over from Jose Mourinho, he interpreted his brief to include more than football coaching. To counter the toxic negativity of Jose Mourinho’s final days (even through the interim lens of Guus Hiddink), he went on a charm offensive around Cobham, introducing himself to even the least football-related employee and making them feel as though they were all part of the greater battle. He was even friendly with the media (for 12 months).

He also imposed dietary restrictions on the players — “at the end of my career I started to eat very well, and I felt the benefit of this”, he said, espousing in a very 21st century vibe. Gone from the cafeteria were ketchup, fizzy drinks and brown sauce. Probably other stuff too, since Conte watched his own carbs religiously and emphasized a healthy balance between protein, carbs and fat.

When Maurizio Sarri took over from Antonio Conte, he interpreted his brief to include more than football coaching. To counter the toxic negativity of Antonio Conte’s final days ... well, here’s where we speak in tongues. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose — the more things change, the more they stay the same. Or in the vernacular of Annie Get Your Gun, anything Conte can do, Sarri can undo better.

Sam Wallace, head football writer for The Telegraph, reports that ketchup, fizzy drinks and the sugary horror that is nameless brown sauce are all back on the menu at Cobham. All the carbs one can handle probably are too.

Sarri has also nixed another Conte mandate, that the night before a Stamford Bridge evening match — midweek European or Cup ties, for example — the players had to abandon their comfy cribs and sleep at The Chelsea Harbour Hotel. That did not go down well with many players. Just one more grumble on top of the mountain of grumbles that eventually buried Conte.

In the spirit of making football fun again, Sarri is relaxing these restrictions. For all we know, there may be other rules he’s easing up on too. (Half the squad were allowed to waste a precious day in preseason by flying to Ibiza for Fàbregas’s post-wedding party several months in the making.) It’s all very Ancelotti-esque in a way, though only off the pitch. Sarri, by all accounts, is very much another task-master in training. But the idea is that the transition the team is undergoing is traumatic enough. Players are being shipped out, tactics are changing drastically, there are intense expectations on the pitch — so who wants a taskmaster off of it?

Also, let’s be honest. Who’s going to take tips for healthy living from a chain-smoking, pot-bellied 59 year-old who chews on cigarettes on the sideline?

Sarri is trusting his players. Some will fail, no doubt — that’s why Conte the task-master was needed in the first place! But Sarri’s motives are sound. Squad morale needs to be rebuilt and he’s removing impediments, one grumble at a time.