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Sarri sees strength in consistency

Maurizio Sarri guided Napoli twice to the Serie A runners-up spot and to one third-place finish during his time there and hopes will be high at Chelsea that he will be even more successful in his new role.
Maurizio Sarri guided Napoli twice to the Serie A runners-up spot and to one third-place finish during his time there and hopes will be high at Chelsea that he will be even more successful in his new role.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • A chain-smoking former banker who does not believe coaching a football team is worthy of the term "work", Chelsea's new manager Maurizio Sarri is certainly not the norm.

He was appointed on Saturday on a three-year contract, less than 24 hours after the sacking of Antonio Conte. Roman Abramovich's ninth full-time manager in his 15 years as owner could not be more different in terms of background to his fellow Italian Conte.

He may not have a trophy to his name, but he turned Napoli into genuine title contenders on a wage budget barely half the size of champions Juventus'. The team he inherited at Napoli had finished fifth under Rafael Benitez in 2014-15.

Under Sarri, they finished second, then third, before last season becoming the first club to fail to win Serie A despite breaking the 90-point barrier.

The 59-year-old, voted Italian coach of the year last season, has shown a desire to be unorthodox and break the mould.

His family were labourers - his father a construction worker - but he became an international banker.

For 20 years, he mixed working for Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which saw him based in several different countries, with working for lower-league and non-league clubs.

NOT ALL WORK IS TOIL

A tough life is getting up at six every morning and going to work in a factory assembly line, not this one.

MAURIZIO SARRI, Chelsea's new manager, who is acutely aware of how privileged being a football coach is.

His command of English will serve him well in communicating with the players from the start, unlike Conte, who could not speak English when he arrived.

However, despite his high-flying banking career, he has not forgotten his roots - his grandfather fought for the partisans in World War II against the Germans - and he is enraged when he hears some of the hyperbole attached to football.

"When I go to lead a training session, I never say to my family, 'I'm going to work'," he told Italian newspaper Avvenire. "I come from a family of labourers and, if I hear someone talking about 'sacrifices' in football, I get mad."

Indeed, he has gone on record to say he would do the job for free. "A tough life is getting up at six every morning and going to work in a factory assembly line, not this one," said Sarri, who will reportedly earn around £6.5 million (S$11.7 million) a year at Stamford Bridge.

"Coaching is the only job I would contemplate doing for free."

Routines matter to Sarri when he coaches, in part because he is a superstitious individual. Napoli forward Dries Mertens observed in an interview that they would move back and forth between specific different training pitches every day, changing the schedule only whenever a winning run came to an end.

More than that, though, Sarri is a man who sees strength in consistency. Napoli have rarely surprised anyone with their tactical approach over the last three years, lining up every week in the same 4-3-3, and yet they have swept opponents aside with a dazzling brand of football. Critics, however, suggested that his team failed to win the title last season because he had failed to rotate against weaker teams, leaving players exhausted by the end of the season.

Arrigo Sacchi, who forged one of the greatest sides in European history at AC Milan in the late 1980s, has only praise for Sarri, hailing him as a "genius".

Sacchi told Marca last year: "He has a great ability to teach... Sarri is the strength of the team. He is the director and author of the orchestra, all the players have improved under him. When you see Sarri's teams play, you know how they train. He is a genius."

Like any coach, Sarri has his flaws. He has been involved in provocative incidents - not least an abusive rant at a female football journalist and raising his middle finger at Juventus fans last season.

Italy coach Roberto Mancini accused Sarri of homophobia when he allegedly called him a "f*****" during an Italian Cup semi-final in 2016 when he was the Inter Milan boss. That sort of language will land him in hot water with the authorities but another more immediate quandary awaits him - how does he get past the strict no-smoking policies at English grounds?

There is some debate about quite how many he smokes a day - some say 60, while Mertens thought it's more like five packets.

Sarri must hope EPL clubs are as accommodating as German side Leipzig, who erected a special smoking section in the Napoli dressing room last season for a Europa League match.

But whether they prove accommodating on the pitch will determine whether his hopes burn bright or go up in a puff of smoke.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2018, with the headline 'Sarri sees strength in consistency'. Print Edition | Subscribe