No matter your opinion on Maurizio Sarri’s time at Chelsea, his tactics, his mannerisms, or his relationships with the fans and players, the images of him lifting his first major trophy and receiving his first winners’ medal as Chelsea vanquished Arsenal in the Europa League were quite affecting.
Here was a man who gave up a well-paying career in international finance to work his way up from the very bottom reaches of the Italian football pyramid to now stand on the second highest peak of European football. His only other trophy in nearly three decades in football management had been the Serie D Cup back in 2003.
But, as the song goes, he did it his way and his way only. He wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, he certainly wasn’t mine, but his clarity of vision and the unshakeable faith that he had in his own ideas is something to be admired in a way.
Now at Juventus, and leading the league before its suspension, Sarri is keeping up all his old habits, good and bad. He can now look back on his season at Chelsea with honest hindsight, and admit that while things didn’t exactly go super smoothly, he still made some strong personal connections that resulted in a teary exit.
“The higher you go the more difficult it is to relate to the players, but up to a certain point. The technical qualities change, but not the human qualities of the boys, who are 20-30 years old and who are all the same in all categories.
“I I had an adversarial relationship in the Chelsea locker room for 4-5 months, then when I told them I would be gone after the Europa League final I cried and so did many of them, because in the end the strong relationship was created.”
One of the main criticisms of Sarri’s style was his apparent inability to relate to not only the fans, but his squad as well. But while that may have been how things appeared in public, and also how he came across in quotes from those who were ostracized and not paid attention to at all, Sarri claims that some strong personal bonds were indeed created (and not just with those whom he knew from before).
“I am someone who, if you do badly, says it to your face and if you do well, I say ‘Bravo’ when I walk in front of you. I speak more of what they do wrong, perhaps, than what they do well, and maybe we pay for this at the start. Then they understand you and appreciate it.
“The truest relationships I have now in the world of football are those with players whom I did not play much. This means that the boys, once they absorb my character, recognize my qualities.
“If they ask me for football and life advice? Yes, especially those who are quitting, they ask me for advice on the experience they are having. Some people say to me ‘I’m 33, I’m going to quit, can I come to your staff because I would like to be a coach?’. Others called me about life problems, relationships with the family, with his wife. When you establish a relationship, they see you as a point of reference. Unfortunately, because it means that I am much older.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Tuttosport via Google Translate
Sarri, who unfortunately has not given up the pack-a-day (if not more) habit even as the deadly respiratory disease devastates the global economic and sporting landscape, has been facing similar issues this season with Juventus. But he had the Old Lady at the top of Serie A when the season was suspended, with a one-point lead over surprising Lazio.
He just might win his first ever league title, if the season can resume in an orderly fashion at some point soon.