For Maurizio Sarri, today is the beginning of the culmination of a journey that began almost 30 years ago, in the depths of the Italian football pyramid. In Italy, there is simply no bigger job than to be the manager of Juventus, certainly not these days.
And so as he donned the official club suit and tie(!) and took his place behind the microphone on the podium to address the gathered media as Juventus head coach for the first time, he made sure to put things into perspective.
”I am not going from the amateur leagues straight to Juventus, I went through Serie C, B, A, Premier League and Juve. I come from Chelsea, another big club, clearly with less history than Juventus, because their level only raised over the last 10-15 years. These are all steps forward in my career, but very, very gradual ones. So yes, it is emotional to be here, but it’s not as if I was just dropped into the Juventus job.”
Expect those Chelsea quotes will be played up by the English media, who didn’t get much praise from Sarri during this 60-minute question and answer session, but as usual, he’s just telling the cold hard facts as he sees them.
“The Premier League was a great experience, but in the latter half, I felt professional and personal needs to return to Italy. Juventus gave me that opportunity and it’s the crowning moment of a career that for 80 per cent of it was extremely tough. I feel that I have respected everyone and I gave my all.”
A lot has been said and written about how and why Sarri and Chelsea ended up being incompatible for each other, but as in most situations, each party was responsible to some degree. But there’s little doubt that Juventus very much wanted Sarri, and made a very strong play for him (even if it didn’t take 30+ days, as director Paratici interjected, giving praise to Granovskaia as well).
“When Juventus contacted me, the sensation was strong. I’ve never seen a club so determined to get a Coach in my 30 years here and that is what convinced me. I’ve never seen so many directors all so very determined to get a single Coach. They were determined, convinced and united in their choice.”
“I had 30 years of negotiations with clubs, so I think I know how to read people by now. I can read when someone really believes in what he’s saying and is totally convinced. It’s not about a phrase, it’s their attitude, their approach, the effort they make to come out and meet you. It shows their conviction that they want you specifically as their Coach. That was the most important thing, for me.”
The other thing that Sarri has acquired over the past 30 years is a steadfast belief in his own methods and philosophy, what we called Sarri-ball and Italian football calls Sarrismo, even if he himself doesn’t brand it like that.
Sarri also claims that the style has evolved in some ways over the years, including the specific formation, instructions, and adjustments made for certain individual game-changers like Eden Hazard.
“You can’t start with a system and send players away or bring them in. We have to identify the two or three players who can make the difference. The third step is to talk to the players, listen to them and then see what system we can use.
”In recent years, I’ve had 4-3-3, but the 4-3-3 at Chelsea was very different to the one at Napoli. We had to accompany Eden Hazard’s characteristics, as he could change the game, but also his presence caused issues in defending that we had to work on. I played 4-3-1-2 for a lifetime before the 4-3-3, so we’ll see [...] I started at Empoli with 4-3-1-2, then moved to 4-3-3 at Napoli and a disguised 4-4-2 at Chelsea.”
One of the reasons Sarri deployed Hazard at center forward was to balance the wings, an issue that his predecessors Conte and Mourinho had tried to solve at times as well (and other times just ran with it and adjusted elsewhere). That’s not a knock against Hazard or any of the coaches; that’s precisely the manager’s job to figure out how to best use his team, where and what and who to adjust and how.
Sarri won’t ever be accused of being a tinkerman, and some facets of his system are clearly set in stone (who will be the next Jorginho?), but he claims to not be a “fundamentalist” in certain other aspects.
“What changes are the characteristics of the players. Napoli had team players, who were totally at the disposal of the team and moved the ball at a decisively quicker pace.
”Chelsea are made up of probably technically superior players, but with different individual characteristics. They have wingers who want the ball at their feet and like to go one-on-one. It leads to a less fluid style of football, because Napoli had 11 who could play one-touch football, Chelsea had seven or eight who could do that and the others were individuals who could make the difference going by themselves.
”We were fairly unbeatable in the last two-three months. You’d be insane to think you could change the characteristics of the players at your disposal. I’d be in the amateur leagues at that point. You are dealing with players at this level who are already champions. The philosophy of football remains largely the same, but you must have the mental elasticity to adapt to the players and figure out how to win games.”
If nothing else, Sarri certainly learned that last lesson at Chelsea. He might be a systems-first coach, far closer to an idealist than a pragmatist, but sometimes you just have to have some “elasticity”, especially if you actually want to win some things ... which he finally also did at Chelsea!
“I think the objective of enjoying yourself on the field is not antithetical to winning. If a team entertains the crowd and enjoys its football, that can be further fuel towards victory. [...] There have been Coaches who won with completely different and contrasting philosophies of football. There is no one way to win. Therefore a Coach should stay true to himself and his vision, taking into account the possibility of failure.”
“I arrive surrounded by sceptics, but then I always am. I had the same at Empoli, Napoli and Chelsea. I arrive at Juventus from Chelsea and the step might spark less scepticism, but I do come from a history and so I expect some rancor.
”In football, I know only one way of removing scepticism from the minds of people: win and do so convincingly. So all I can do is put on a show.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Football Italia
Juve are certainly hoping it’s going to be one hell of a show (but only on the pitch, not off of it).
Sarri also talked at length about his history with Naples and what that all means, plus plenty of words about Cristiano Ronaldo and a bunch of other things, so if that interests you, be sure to check out the press conference live blog at Football Italia.
Good luck, Maurizio.