Chelsea’s last two head coaches were not exactly known for making friends with the enemy. One of them is in fact famed for doing the exact opposite that’s a key part of his “us/me against the world” rhetoric that’s once again on full display, this time at Manchester United. Conte didn’t get riled up that often (only Mourinho got under his skin, but then quite deeply), and he was always respectful but one got the feeling he didn’t bother beyond that.
There’s nothing wrong with that of course. Some will say the game’s gotten too friendly anyway. But there will be plenty of drama on the pitch so we could certainly do without drama off of it. New head coach Maurizio Sarri is no stranger to off-pitch drama either — Roberto Mancini certainly won’t be calling him up for dinner anytime soon — and he has a reputation for being a bit of a hermit, but he’s got nice rapport with Pep Guardiola, and if you’re going to make friends with anyone, you might as well start at the top.
It started with respect, with Guardiola impressed by Sarri’s Napoli when they met in the Champions League.
“We faced one of the best sides I faced in my career – probably the best. It is one of the wins I am most proud in my career.”
-Pep Guardiola; October 2017
City may have won, but Pep already regarded the Partenopei as one of the best — and toughest — teams in the world.
“We’re going to face the team who played the best football in Italy. I’m not talking about winning. I like to watch the teams who want to play.”
”In Italy, where the culture is defensive in the box, Napoli play 40 metres in front, a bit like Arrigo Sacchi did once [at AC Milan]. With the ball they are fantastic. For me, they are one of the three best teams right now in Europe [at] playing football.”
-Pep Guardiola; August 2017
The legendary Arrigo Sacchi has served as inspiration and mentor for generations of managers, and it was thanks to him that Sunday’s two protagonists’ relationship truly blossomed into what might actually be called friendship. The three of them shared a meal and words back in June, some of which may have even changed the course of Chelsea history.
“[It was a] very, very fun dinner – to hear Arrigo speak is always exceptional.”
“[Guardiola] told me that here in England, it is very difficult. The level is very high. He said that football is football everywhere and, sure, if I had the chance to come to England, I should take it. Every coach in this moment wants to work in England. The Premier League is the best in the world.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Guardian
Guardiola is happy that Sarri took up his advice and accepted the move to Chelsea, delayed as it may have been.
“First of all I’m happy that a manager of that level is in the Premier League. I’m going to learn a lot to see him every weekend. We are going to improve a lot because of his ideas here in England.
“I saw three games [of Chelsea] in pre-season and he got it. He did it - the team in a short time plays like he wants. Of course, he needs more time to work everything but the ideas are already there so I think it’ll be a good game [on Sunday]. Chelsea is always a big rival, with Antonio Conte before and with Maurizio too.
”The way he plays I think will be perfect for English football. I’m so happy he came here.”
-Pep Guardiola; source: Sky
Guardiola, regarded as the best manager in the world, ready to learn from his friend, Sarri, the old man of Chelsea. Not sure how to handle all this mutual admiration.
Fortunately, Sarri knows: by beating his friend Pep, “the best coach in the world” on the Wembley pitch in the Community Shield.
“I think it is very important to start with a trophy. It is important also to step forward. For me, clearly, it is important to win something.
“It depends on the club [how long I will stay]. If I want to stay here for 10 years, then I have to win. Then it depends on the club but I want to stay here for a long time.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Goal