Mauzio Sarri has been a picture of positivity at Chelsea, despite stepping into a pressure cooker of limited prep time, late-arriving players and typically high Chelsea expectations. His dominant mood has been cheerful, friendly and encouraging. His operative word has been “fun”. Like Conte two years ago, he’s lightened the mood after a period of drawn-out tensions.
But something finally got his goat.
Asked after Wednesday’s shoot-out loss to Arsenal about Willian’s late arrival, and the excuse of an expired passport, Sarri turned his smile upside down. Or, to be more precise, turned his smile into a knowing smile.
“I want to speak to him before I answer these questions. I don’t know. I am not happy about the situation but I would like to talk to him.
”Is it strange? I think so.”
Sarri took great care to answer the reporter’s question in a most diplomatic fashion, stressing that he wants to talk to Willian face-to-face before judging the situation, but when the reporter threw in an off-hand “Is it strange?” follow-up, referring to the passport situation, Sarri let his guard down and chuckled back an “I think so.”
You can see Sarri answer the question starting at around the 4:30-mark of this post-match press conference video:
Frankly, it is a strange situation, and it’s refreshing to see someone at Chelsea publicly call into question Willian’s excuse for arriving five days late and missing a pre-season game. Until Sarri spoke, Chelsea had been doing their utmost to make it all seem routine, that Willian had been in touch with them the whole time (unlike Diego Costa’s boycott last summer). But the excuse seemed like a stretch, given that his passport worked just fine for the World Cup in Russia three weeks ago.
It also didn’t help that both Barcelona and Manchester United have been repeatedly linked with him and now Real Madrid are rumored to be ready to offer £65m for him. On top of all of that, he was very obviously peeved at Conte after the FA Cup. Maybe, the thinking went, it was time for a change, for everyone’s benefit.
But despite the strange situation, Sarri doesn’t see it that way, at least not right now. While acknowledging that he doesn’t have final say in these matters — he’s “just” the head coach, after all — he repeated that he wants to keep Willian as well as the other two big names possibly lined up by the exit door.
“In this moment [I can’t comment on it]. I will see them on Saturday for the first time so I don’t know the situation in this moment.
”We are talking about top players and I think every club wants to keep top players.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Sky
So this may be a trifle, a hiccup. Willian finally returned to London on Wednesday and trained at Cobham while the rest of the first-team were in Dublin. But first impressions count. And it looks like Sarri wants Willian to know that he’s not going to play make-believe. That sounds like a healthy way to start a relationship...