Sarri’s Italian job would let Abramovich save face and cash


For Chelsea, if this is to be the last stand of Maurizo Sarri, the best case scenario would be to win the Europa League and lose him to Juventus.

Or Roma. Or anyone in Serie A, for that matter. What would it say of them otherwise? That here was a manager who got the team back into the Champions League via domestic placing, who reached the final of a major domestic cup, lost undeservingly on penalties, and then won a major European trophy — all in his first season in English football, at a club in a transitional state — and it still wasn’t enough?

It is hardly a secret that Roman Abramovich is a demanding employer — the £9million settlement with Antonio Conte last week takes his compensatory commitments to managers to £93m since 2004.

Yet even by Chelsea’s standards, were Sarri to win in Europe and then be sacked, it would be an extraordinarily harsh judgment. Rafael Benitez also left after winning the Europa League, but he was only ever the interim manager.

Roberto Di Matteo got barely six months after winning the Champions League, but he at least had a brief opportunity to capitalise on that success. If Sarri goes this summer we will never know if his brand of football could have led Chelsea to even greater glory, given time and a properly structured pre-season.

Abramovich’s way with managers has already cost him some of the world’s greatest coaches — Pep Guardiola is one who was put off by what he saw as the short-termism of Chelsea — yet might treating Sarri poorly see him rejected by some of those even lower down the scale?

Take Frank Lampard, for example. As a young manager, one season into his career, is it really worth risking his reputation at Stamford Bridge? One would imagine a European final, a domestic final and third place would be considered a brilliant first season for Lampard in the Premier League, after narrowly missing out on promotion with Derby.

Yet if that same CV got the previous manager the sack, where has he to go? Is Lampard, or anyone, seriously expected to outwit Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp straight out of the traps? And almost certainly without Chelsea’s best player of recent times, Eden Hazard.

Pick an owner, not a club, was always Sir Alex Ferguson’s advice to young managers and Abramovich needs an amicable, logical parting with Sarri if reputational damage is not to occur. He certainly does not need another change that makes his stewardship appear unreasonable or impossible to satisfy.

Whatever unfolds in Baku on Wednesday— and Thursday, given the 11pm local kick-off time —nobody would argue Sarri’s first season has been an unqualified success. There is an obvious disconnect with the fans and some players — and the football has frequently been less than inspiring.

The conversion of N’Golo Kante from the best defensive screen in the world to an average midfielder is particularly puzzling, but not the only decision that has bemused. Once the novelty of his chain-smoking touchline presence wore off, Sarri has appeared a cold, methodical character, dogmatic in his methods, with an unwavering conviction that his brand of football is worthier than gifts an individual may possess.

If this mindset had produced the type of football his Napoli team played, there would have been less resistance. But Chelsea are Napoli Lite — or Napoli, low powered. Too often they possess the ball to no end. Take Hazard away and this season could have panned out very differently.

So, without doubt, a timely offer from Juventus or Roma would solve a lot of problems. Serie A appears a more natural habitat for Sarri and, this way, he could depart with both sides keeping honour intact. Chelsea will have lost a manager rather than dismissed one, Sarri will have taken a more suitable job having achieved his target at Chelsea — Champions League football.

If his last game sees him lift the first major trophy of his coaching career, so much the better.

More troubling is what will happen if the opportunities in Italy do not materialise. Chelsea must then decide whether to stand by a manager who is not greatly loved, for all his achievements, and who cannot help but be weakened by the absence of Hazard next season.

Or they sack him and push the compensation payments ever closer to nine figures. Who can forget Abramovich’s face the night Chelsea won the Champions League? By turn delighted and thoroughly miserable, knowing that he now had no option but to offer Di Matteo the permanent position against his better judgment.

Might we see a repeat if the owner makes it to Baku and Chelsea win again? Is this not becoming the impossible job? It always seems to end in tears at Chelsea, even when it doesn’t.


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