With four pre-season games, one Community Shield match and a Premier League fixture already played, one might be excused for thinking that Maurizio Sarri has settled in as Chelsea’s new coach. He hasn’t.
Most importantly, he’s still learning about his players. He has to learn about their ability to play his system, something he can’t evaluate until it becomes instinctive for them. And that means lots and lots of practice, loads more than the 10 days the full squad has gotten so far.
He also has to learn their personalities, the often overlooked man-management part of his job. That, too, takes time and it’s why he won’t name a permanent captain yet. Interestingly, he’s not ruling out anyone. Even Gary Cahill, who’s not expected to see regular time but was the team’s captain in the season after losing perennial armband owner John Terry, has a chance.
“As I said last week, for the moment the captain is Azpilicueta. But I want to know very well my players. In 10 days or a couple of weeks, I will be able to decide the final one.”
”I don’t know [if Cahill will lose it or continue]. Maybe Cahill [will keep it]. But I’d like to know very well the players [first].”
He’d also like the players to get to know each other as well, and bond as a group. There may not be too many new faces in the squad, but Jorginho, Kepa Arrizabalaga and Mateo Kovačić have pivotal roles. And they need to feel integrated.
Jorginho singing his initiation song pic.twitter.com/rYDH1siA6j— AM29 (@MorataSZN) August 17, 2018
That’s why, despite earlier reports, Sarri hasn’t actually yet suspended the mandate that players spend the night at The Chelsea Harbour Hotel before home games. The supposedly unpopular Conte-era rule still stands under Sarri’s watch — just like it stands at many other professional teams across many other professional sports — though it could change depending on what takes place in the future.
“We are talking about the day before the match, but that depends on the moment. Now, at this part of the season, we need to stay together the day before the match.”
“But, in the future, when we play three times a week, maybe it would be better to stay at home before the matches. It depends upon the moment, I think.”
What Sarri has done however, is follow through on his promise to give players more freedom in the Cobham cafeteria, with everything from brown sauce and ketchup to salt and pepper back on the menu. It’s about trusting and treating his players as grown men.
“[I lifted the dietary rules] because I think my players are professional. They must be professional not by rules, but by a good mentality.”
“I don’t know [if I have a relaxed attitude]. We talk about nutrition, but we have a very good doctor [as well]. He’s better than me [on that subject].”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Goal
As befits a former bank manager, the new boss is methodically doing his due diligence. He has the steps down pat — this is the eleventh time he’s taken over a new club.
Chelsea are very much a work in progress. But more than anyone around him, he knows what works.