Former Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri admits he made a “mistake” in leaving the Blues after a single season in London, and says that he would have been tailor-made to lead Roman Abramovich’s new list of big-money imports.
Sarri, the cigarette smoking Napolitano, was drafted into Chelsea in 2019 after a successful spell in Serie A with hometown team Napoli where it was thought – or hoped, at least – that his style of possession-based football might upset the establishment in which Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp’s brand of eye-catching football which had taken hold in the Premier League.
‘Sarriball’, as it became known, focused on keeping the ball and patiently probing defences in search of opportunities to break down resistance – but soon drew criticism from some sections of the Stamford Bridge faithful for the molasses-like build-up play in a league famous for its high-tempo action.
The Italian guided Chelsea to that season’s Europa League title as they shellacked London rivals Arsenal in the final, but it soon became clear that Sarri saw his future back in Italy and he agitated for a move back into the league in which he made his name, eventually opting to take over from Max Allegri at league champions Juventus.
But it is a decision that he now regrets.
“[Director] Marina Granovskaia wanted to keep me from leaving Chelsea. Today I say that it was a mistake to want to return to Italy at all costs,” said Sarri on SportItalia, Goal.com reported.
“Chelsea are a great club, in the following years they have taken many young people suitable for me.
“I experienced a particular year, in which Abramovich could not enter England and we had an owner who was not present in the area.
“A rather difficult situation, all in the hands of Marina and she had a thousand problems to solve, the football aspect was in the hands of us of the staff, not having the economic power available.”
Since Sarri, Chelsea first employed club legend Frank Lampard to take over in the Stamford Bridge hot seat, with the novice manager tasked with guiding the club through a transfer ban and overseeing the introduction of the club’s top academy players into the first team setup – all without the talents of their best player Eden Hazard who had moved to Real Madrid weeks before.
If Lampard steadied the ship, it was Thomas Tuchel who brought it to full-sail. The German, installed as replacement to Lampard in January, hit the ground running and would eventually claim Chelsea’s second-ever Champions League crown – and Sarri admits that he would have enjoyed coaching this new, refreshed Chelsea squad.
“Werner, Havertz, Mount, Ziyech: all suited to me and my way of playing,” he said of some of Chelsea’s core players who made their mark in the post-Sarri era.
This isn’t to say that Sarri didn’t see success back in his homeland. He guided Juventus to yet another Serie A title in his first campaign back before he was replaced by Andrea Pirlo – a decision which, with the benefit of hindsight, seems a poor one.
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In fact, Sarri – who is now with Lazio – cites the success of someone like Pep Guardiola as establishing a blueprint of clubs seeking young coaches with fresh ideas as having a negative influence on the game.
“It was taken for granted,” he said of his title-winning season in Italy. “I think mine was not celebrated very much.
“This is the Guardiola effect that did so much damage in the end. An exception was taken as if it were a rule and you run the risk of burning some guys who would be great coaches after a few years.
“Sometimes there is a risk of hindering the careers of young people who could become very good with a little more experience.”