Maurizio Sarri is back in football management after a yearlong sabbatical, and as he begins his tenure at Lazio, he’s also broken a nearly yearlong silence by giving his first interview in 332 days. Unsurprisingly, the interviewer granted this opportunity was none other than the Oracle of Sarri, SportItalia’s Alfredo Pedullà.
To call this a wide-ranging interview would be an understatement (transcript here or here), touching on just about every possible topic from the last few years of Sarri’s coaching career, including plenty of Chelsea-related questions.
Perhaps the most intriguing one is his admission that leaving Chelsea after just one season to return to Italy was a “sensational mistake” on his part, and one that required him to win a battle of wills against club director Marina Granovskaia, even — which may actually be his most impressive accomplishment.
“I had more fun at Napoli [than Juventus]. And [also] the last few months at Chelsea.”
“At Chelsea I made a sensational mistake, that of wanting to return to Italy at all costs. Marina stonewalled me to leave Chelsea, I had this desire to return to Italy.”
Sarri’s regret appears to be due to a combination of feeling unrecognized for his accomplishments at Juventus (ho-hum, just another title) and due to rebuilding Chelsea have undergone since.
“[The Scudetto at Juve] was taken for granted. On the outside, but I have to say also on the inside. We won a Scudetto without celebrating it, everyone dined on their own. [...] A team that has been in the league for 8 years can take everything for granted, but in football it is never like that.”
“Chelsea are a great club, in the following years they took many young people suitable for me. I lived a particular year [...] a rather difficult situation, everything in the hands of Marina and she had a thousand problems to solve, the football aspect was in the hands of the staff, not having the economic power available. Then came Werner, Havertz, Mount, Ziyech: all suitable for me and my way to play.”
That’s not to say that Sarri wasn’t backed by Chelsea, on the contrary.
And he obviously retains great respect for his son, Jorginho, but also for proven veteran winners like Olivier Giroud and Pedro and N’Golo Kanté, to whose game he made a lasting contribution by deploying him in more dynamic attacking roles as well, not just in a double pivot or as a midfield anchor.
“[Giroud] is a great professional, one of those who always exist in times of need. Before the Europa League final, Zola asked me what ideas I had: I replied that Giroud and Pedro, the others, would certainly play tomorrow. He would have chosen nine. There are two who have never failed a final. [Pedro] is a player who never misses the important game, I have a weakness for this type of small, fast and technical players. He is another of those undervalued players, he has won everything.”
“When I started dealing with Chelsea [Jorginho] was signing with City, we were able to intervene and bring him to Chelsea. They struggled, fans and journalists, to understand this boy’s game. Then he exploded in popularity also in England, now I have seen that he’s been made [vice-]captain. He deserves it.”
“If he wins the European Championship too, it is clear that he would become [a candidate for the Ballon d’Or]. He is a refined player, probably not understandable by everyone. You have to put your eyes on him and only watch him in the game. He is so good and intelligent that he makes everything seem easy, rarely do you. something spectacular remains in the eye. This is its greatness.”
“In my opinion Jorginho is more suitable for [a midfield] three than two, he is very intelligent and adapts to everything. Kantè is monstrous, at very high speed he makes 3.5 km while the average is 2.2. He recovers a thousand balls, he can play two or three.”
Sarri wasn’t necessarily the most universally adored Chelsea manager ever, to put it kindly, but he left as a winner, and we all love winners.
Good luck at Lazio, Maurizio, especially against cross-town arch-nemeses AS Roma, now managed by none other than José Mourinho!