As his triumphant Chelsea side took in a lap of honour in the half empty Olympic Stadium in Baku, a somber looking Maurizio Sarri stood motionless near the half way line. He watched with his hands behind is back as his players laughed and joked with each other, occasionally stopping to kiss the Europa League trophy they had just won. This was Chelsea’s first trophy under Sarri and indeed the Italian’s first major trophy as a manager so you would be forgiven for thinking that he would be joining in with the squad. But etched on his face was a look of solemn acceptance that despite winning UEFA’s second biggest club competition it wasn’t going to be enough. Sarri could already hear the knives being sharpened 2,864 miles away in London as the Chelsea hierarchy prepared to stab him in the back.
Sarri will likely be sacked, despite the win and of course a 3rd place League finish and a Carabao Cup final appearance. More was expected of Maurizio when he arrived from his native Italy last summer yet given the way that Manchester City and Liverpool have played this year, it’s hard to see how he could have achieved more. Sadly Sarri will never know as he bows out of Stamford Bridge this summer after only one year in charge. He will spend some time reflecting on what has been a rollercoaster year with many ups and downs. Sarri will feel that this was never truly his team and that he wasn’t given the opportunity to enforce the changes he wanted and both are valid points. But the underlining truth about why Sarri never quite worked at Chelsea was that the players, fans and executive team never really warmed to him. Avram Grant had a similar problem and lasted only a short while before being pushed out through a side door. Rumours of clashes between Sarri and the players were rife throughout the season but kept well under wraps so that it remained as only a rumour. The only true sign of dissident was in that Carabao Cup Final when Sarri was overruled on a substitution by the player (Kepa) he was trying to substitute. After that point, there really was no going back for Chelsea’s hierarchy who knew they would be shopping for a new manager in the close season.
For the fans who reminisce about the better days namely under one Jose Mourinho, there will be calls for Frank Lampard to be brought “home” as their new manager. Lampard has had a fine debut season as a manager of Derby County, remarkably guiding them to the Championship Playoffs Final, where they were within 90 minutes of playing in the Premier League only to fall at the last hurdle. There is no question he knows Chelsea but can he make the step up and manage the club he so loyally served as a player? Managing a team like Chelsea is no easy task under normal circumstances but that task is even harder with the London club about to start its two window FIFA imposed transfer ban. Whoever does take over from Sarri will come in knowing that they will be unable to add new faces to a squad that desperately needs freshening up.
Given the number of players Chelsea currently have out on loan (44 in total), having enough bodies to make up a squad won’t be an issue but putting enough quality on the pitch might be. With star player Eden Hazard almost confirming his departure in the press conference after the Europa League win, Chelsea face starting a new season without an inspirational creative spark. Being unable to replace the Real Madrid bound Hazard could prove to be a bigger headache than figuring out who will be at the helm. They could turn to Callum Hudson Odoi to fill the void left by the Belgian which makes sense given his considerable talent but those are extremely large boots to fill, not only considering Hazards prominence in front of goal but also what his overall game brings to the Chelsea team as a whole. Thats a lot of pressure to place on the shoulders of a 18 year old. More likely Chelsea will turn to American wunderkid Christian Pulisic who has arrived from Borussia Dortmund after signing a contract in January before the transfer ban was imposed.
Sarri’s representatives meanwhile have flown in to London for crunch talks at Stamford Bridge with the hopes that they can persuade Chelsea to stick with him for one more season but with former Juventus boss Max Allegri now available, Sarri will not get a stay of execution. It’s a shame that it has not worked out for him. His first four months in charge demonstrated his abilities as a coach with Chelsea operating a fast paced possession based style of attacking football that would be dubbed “Sarriball”. But as results began to slip and Sarri’s authority began to be questioned, surface cracks began to widen as the Italian battled with his squad and the egos within it. Sarri is by no means a bad manager and will now return to Italy to try again, with rumours suggesting Juventus may be willing to take a punt on Sarriball.