Maurizio Sarri came to Chelsea with a bit of a mixed reputation about transfer activities. The dominant storyline was that he finds market shenanigans “boring” and prefers to play the hand he’s dealt. He likes working with and improving players and his results at Napoli, indeed in Italy overall, suggest he’s good at it.
On the other hand, one reported point of friction with Napoli president Aurelio Di Laurentiis was the club’s lack of helpful transfer activity.
So in his first pre-match press conference in England on Friday, with the transfer window unstoppably ticking towards Thursday’s 5pm BST deadline, we knew two things. One, he was going to be asked about transfers. Two, his answers would be scrutinized more carefully than Julius Caesar’s tea leaves, given Antonio Conte’s oblique but constant complaints last season.
In the end, oddly enough, our amiable new coach lived up to both reputations.
On the one hand, he did say he wants a new player. Just the one, apparently. On the other hand, his communication with the club has been sparing and not especially detailed.
(Ed.note: of course, this is generally how this process works nowadays with clubs favoring the head coach vs. sporting director setup rather than giving full control to a manager; when it works, everyone’s happy; when it doesn’t, you get Conte last season, or Mourinho before then, or... While most coaches will give more detail than Sarri claims he has — and some do claim that he very much named Higuain, including Higuain himself — the arrangement relies on clear communications and reasonable expectations from both sides. Simply naming a target or desire will not and should not guarantee success. So far so good, but we’ve been here before.)
“I talk with the club about the market but only one or maybe two times, not more. I spoke about positions and characteristics but no names. So, I don’t know. I think we need something, but maybe only a player.
“We have very good midfielders, but maybe a midfielder with different characteristics [would be a good fit].”
A true box-to-box, maybe? Matis Vecino, a traditional incursore, has been linked recently. Sarri ain’t saying, but he likes the players he has ... as long as he gets to keep them.
Above all, he’s clear-eyed about the challenge ahead and the high-wire act every Chelsea coach has to perform.
“I want to stay here for 10 years, then I have to win. Then it depends on the club, but I want to stay here for a long time. It is very difficult in this moment. It is a very difficult match.
”Of course, we can try to reduce the gap in the Premier League with work. My job is to try to improve my players and so we will have to work towards this target, to reduce the gap. Guardiola told me that here in England it is very difficult.
”The level is very high, so he had some problems in his first season but he said that football is football everywhere. I think it is very important to start with a trophy. At this moment of the season it is no more important. It is important also to step forward. For me, clearly, it is important to win something.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Goal
That last bit is a nod to the one blot on his excellent resume — no trophies. It’s likely why, of the top clubs, only Chelsea were chasing him. But it’s pretty clear he understands the demands of both the club and its support. After all, despite all the turbulence, Conte brought home something shiny at the end of both of his seasons.
Just one note, Maurizio. The Community Shield doesn’t count.