As rounds of “We want Sarri out” and “F*** Sarriball” echoed around the Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday evening, it was difficult not to feel some semblance of sympathy for the man who impressed so many of his peers with his “Sarriball” philosophy of football in Italy. But somewhere down the line, years from now when we reflect on this very juncture of time in Chelsea’s history, there will be some very valid criticisms directed at Sarri’s reign at Stamford Bridge.
Roman Abramovich’s love for attacking football is no secret, with sources having called his obsession of infusing the club he loves with “Barcelona’s DNA” a lifelong dream. Maurizio Sarri, who encapsulates attacking & artistic football at its theoretical finest, gave him a chance to do just that, after enduring (for a lack of a better word) the pragmatism of José Mourinho and Antonio Conte for most of his 15 years as the owner.
So, in came Sarri after losing an agonizingly close Scudetto race to a behemoth of a team in Juventus. The round of negotiations with Napoli over their “rightful” compensation for their beloved manager was a battle in and of itself. But “Mister 33” finally did come, and Chelsea were off to a good start despite the delayed commencement to a proper preseason.
Legendary Italian manager Arrigo Sacchi on Sarri:— Alex McGovern (@AlexMcGovern11) May 28, 2018
"I said to Berlusconi: 'if you want repeat with Milan what happened with me 25 years ago I will give you a name. It won't cost you money, but he is the coach you need'...Last year Silvio told me — Arrigo, I was wrong."
But dynasties fall, and good times don’t last. The first cracks began to show against West Ham at London Stadium. That was the first example of a defensively well-drilled team in the Premier League showing just how easily “Sarriball” can be countered. Over time, the predicament deepened and Sarri’s approach to football was reduced to a lethargic rendition of his style at Napoli, devoid of any creativity.
“At the moment we are not playing very well. We need to improve in playing our way of football. We are trying to do this but it’s not easy, especially in the first season because we started to work only in the middle of July. At the beginning of August we played the first official match. Then we worked for a couple of weeks and then started to play every three days. It is not easy for me to play my football.
“Now we need to improve in playing our football and our performances. Then the results will be a consequence. Do I need a full pre-season? I need to work and in the first season it was impossible to work.”
“Will I change my philosophy? No, because I need to believe in what I do. Otherwise it is impossible to pass my ideas to the players.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Sky
It hasn’t helped that Sarriball poster-boy Jorginho has found it difficult to find pockets of space consistently in a league infamous for its physical, man-marking emphasis. An ageing Gonzalo Higuaín, who scored 38 goals in a single season at Napoli, has unsurprisingly been reduced to a shell of his former self as well. And Chelsea’s core wingers, Eden Hazard and Willian have found it difficult to secede their dribbling tendencies and move the ball quicker which has taken away the very essence of Sarri’s philosophy.
♂️*Jorginho woud look better if Barkley / Kovačić moved better between the lines*— Sébastien (@SebC__) April 1, 2019
Premier League teams tend to "match up" in midfield
Cardiff 3v3 against Chelsea's triangle
Puts extra responsibility on CBs to find options forward.
Different context pic.twitter.com/ZnDMQHpAXA
However, the biggest scrutiny that Sarri has faced has been over the use of players who have been on the fringes over the course of the season, most notably Chelsea’s latest wonderkid, and very much a wanted man around European football, Callum Hudson-Odoi.
“In my opinion, he is our future. He will probably start tomorrow or in the next match.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: BBC
International football is certainly not Premier League-level football, but Hudson-Odoi starting an England match before a Premier League match sums up the situation quite succinctly.
When they say winning goal in training!! pic.twitter.com/zV9yaRzgRb— Callum Hudson-Odoi (@Calteck10) April 2, 2019
As Sarri stuck to the approach that he deems right and the players whom he trusts, the issues which seemed trivial during his Napoli tenure have been magnified suddenly. And concerns about Sarri have reportedly grown beyond just the fans in the stadium and online. Sarri might claim that he’s able ignore all that, but surely it would be impossible even for this football-hermit to not feel a sense of trepidation about his job.
Sarri can indubitably bring up his approval ratings by starting Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek today against Brighton. He’s also shown willingness recently to tweak his system or even play with a pragmatic approach in order to achieve the primary goal of football. There is no better solution to a team’s problems than winning.
“I know only one way [to get the fans back]. We have to win matches and try to win a trophy. We [still] have the chance to take our target. We can arrive at the end of this season in the top four, and we can try to get to the final of the Europa League. At the end our season can become a very good one.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Sky
Let’s hope he’s right on all accounts.