It’s been two weeks since Chelsea won the FA Cup and drama still hasn’t stopped, it’s just moved from the pitch to the boardroom. As of this writing, dead-man-walking Antonio Conte is still officially Chelsea’s head coach. Presumptive successor Maurizio Sarri is still in limbo too — his release clause expired midnight Thursday, Chelsea haven’t reached a deal with Napoli to free him and... that’s about it for what we know for sure.
The rest is media scuttlebutt and often contradictory. So we thought we’d sort through it all and try to find a pattern that fits the known facts and the wildly opposing rumors. Any Grand Unifying Theory (GUT) would have to accommodate the following contradictions:
1) Chelsea have suddenly woken up to Sarri’s controversial past, specifically his homophobic comments about then-Inter coach Roberto Mancini in 2016, and have decided that Laurent Blanc is a more savory option.
But wait, isn’t Sarri is still Chelsea’s main man?
Pedulla is adamant in his latest Sarri update that there’s absolutely nothing in tonight’s claims that the board have turned their back on Sarri because of his controversial flare-up with Mancini. He’s still plan A.— Jack S. (@Tedescology) May 31, 2018
He effectively goes on to slay and slander the English press.
Chelsea knew about Sarri's past when they first considered him. If they don't end up appointing him it will have nothing to do with his previous history and everything to do with money. If his lawyers can make him a free agent let's see what happens. If not..— Matt Law (@Matt_Law_DT) June 1, 2018
Is it possible for both stories to live in the same universe?
2) Chelsea have agreed at least the outline of a contract with Sarri. Per Alfredo Pedullà, a generally respected source for news about Italian football, it would be a two-year deal worth between €6 and €6.5m per year.
But wait, now Sarri’s agent, Alessandro Pellegrini is pretending that he’s never even heard of Chelsea Football Club. How do you negotiate a deal if the agent isn’t involved?
3/ Chelsea have been actively negotiating with Napoli, who rejected a low-ball offer of €4m to activate Sarri’s release clause.
Or... you believe Aurelio de Laurentiis’ claim that nobody has contacted him about buying out Sarri’s contract.
Grand Unifying Theory
So how does all of the above make sense, how can it all belong in the same, rational universe? Short answer: the football universe is not rational. Long answer: you need to account for feints, laws and gullible reporters (or, more accurately, reporters more interested in page clicks and headlines than objective truth).
Maurizio Sarri is under contract to Napoli. Chelsea may or may not have had back-channel talks with Napoli over activating the release clause. In either case, a deal was never reached. The next step is a legal one. Chelsea could find grounds to file a lawsuit and they may eventually do so. But the more expedient solution is for Sarri himself to challenge his contract, possibly on the grounds of constructive dismissal. He would seem to have a strong case, given the splash with which Aurelio de Laurentiis hired Carlo Ancelotti to replace him.
#LigaItaly • Alasan Napoli Kontrak Ancelotti dan Dendam kepada Conte: https://t.co/XhZxfEp4Jr – Presiden Napoli, Aurelio De Laurentiis, membeberkan alasan penunjukan Carlo Ancelotti sebagai juru taktik baru bagi Marek Hamsik cs. Ancelotti resmi… https://t.co/fWY8xZpDPi pic.twitter.com/YKpCSgPgpp— bola01 (@bola01com) June 1, 2018
To help his case, both Chelsea and Sarri are claiming their hands are clean. Sari’s agent denies any knowledge of Chelsea. For their part, Chelsea float the story that they’ve given up on twisting Napoli’s arm and have instead switched their attention to Laurent Blanc.
Here, it’s instructive that two respected sources, Alfredo Pedullà in Italy and Matt Law in England, are not running with the Laurent Blanc story. (An alternate theory holds that Sarri’s homophobic comments and Blanc’s candidacy are being used as a face-saver for Chelsea to cover themselves for their failure to land their primary target. But given Blanc’s own troubled history, that seems unlikely.)
So that’s the Grand Unifying Theory. Like any scientists will tell you, a theory is nothing more than a structure which connects and explains the known facts. If the facts change, so does the theory. So the above isn’t set in stone. But it is a coherent explanation for facts which, on their face, would appear to be in conflict.
The upshot? The drama is far from over. This isn’t going to be a mini-series. De Laurentiis is stubborn and Chelsea in recent years have been equally steadfast in holding their ground in negotiations. Once the courts (or arbitration) get involved, things slow down in a hurry. This epic could drag on all the way until Chelsea’s first pre-season match in Perth on July 23rd. Not to sound negative, but that sort of chaos is becoming par for the course at the club we love... and sometimes love to hate.