Maurizio Sarri’s true passion was always football. Playing, watching, coaching. He played in the amateur leagues as a difensoraccio, a big burly defender low on skill and high on the violence, a “mastiff breathing down your neck”. He came close to a professional career, but other commitments meant he couldn’t dedicate himself to football for a while longer. Like most of us, he worked the solid 9-to-5 grind, putting his education in economics to use as a banker.
It was a job that took him around Europe, but he always returned to the football pitch, eventually substituting boots for a clipboard, playing for coaching. He didn’t make the latter full-time until he was in his 40s, and he brought over certain lessons learned in the banking industry to help him in his new career.
“I just love to be on the pitch with the players. It’s the same to be on the pitch with a semi-professional team, with a Serie B team, or Serie A, or Premier League team – it’s better to be with a Premier League team, of course!”
“But I never stopped coaching when I was working. I think my work in finance has helped me in my mind. As a coach, after doing that job, I was able to organise my work better.”
Sarri’s coaching style and tactics are fairly unique in top level football, but they were not born in total isolation. Like many coaches working in Italy and across Europe, he was inspired at least in part by Arrigo Sacchi, one of the sport’s greatest (and winningest) managers of all time.
“I think, not only Italy but in Europe, there is football before Sacchi and football after Sacchi. He made a great mark on football. Before Sacchi, in Italy we played man against man, but with Sacchi it was zonal marking only and the team was compact. It’s another football.”
One glaring absence from Sarri’s resume is trophies. He got very close to changing this record last season, when Napoli set a club record for points. But they fell just a bit short in the final few weeks in their bid to topple juggernauts Juventus.
Sarri knows that there is a winning tradition at Chelsea and that he will be expected to adhere to that even as he re-introduces fun football to the SW6.
“Chelsea in the last 15 years have won everything, with different ways of playing football. It’s typical of a great club. There are a lot of players with quality here, so I think we can play very good football.”
“Of course, I’d like to win everything but I know that here in England it is not possible. The target for Chelsea is, for sure, to win something but I think the most important target is to be able to reach our 101 per cent.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Chelsea FC
Sarri may be given a bit of leeway in his debut season, but patience is unlikely to be overly abundant, neither from the stands not the board room, regardless of effort put in — be that 100, 101, or the Conte-esque 120 per cent.
The first step however, the 3-0 win over Huddersfield last weekend, was a very good first step. Now, it’s time to smash Arsenal.