Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

Transfer ban – not Sarriball – could end Maurizio Sarri's Chelsea career

Likely hamstrung by two-window ban, embattled manager will need to adapt – which may not be his forte

Maurizio Sarri is an ideologue, and managing Chelsea next season looks a test of pragmatism. Stu Forster / Getty Images
Maurizio Sarri is an ideologue, and managing Chelsea next season looks a test of pragmatism. Stu Forster / Getty Images

The more polite of the chants was “we want Sarri out”.

Chelsea’s fans made it clear they dislike both Maurizio Sarri and "Sarriball", a word the manager may never have actually used and a concept which has never been fully realised at Stamford Bridge, but which has nevertheless come to serve as a bespoke description for intransigent inflexibility and struggles caused in part by stubbornness.

Sarri lost even in victory, the soundtrack to the defeat of Cardiff City coming from unhappy Chelsea supporters (and an irate Neil Warnock). A solitary, misunderstood man has occasionally attempted to compromise – his protege Jorginho gets substituted now – but sometimes it feels as though his method of managing entails trolling the fanbase.

Conceding he saw only 20 minutes of Callum Hudson-Odoi’s hugely encouraging first England start may have been true. It was also needlessly provocative. Benching N’Golo Kante and Eden Hazard in Wales may have given them a valuable rest, but Sarri should recognise he is no longer granted the benefit of the doubt.

Or not by the supporters, anyway. The more instructive element is if Chelsea’s board give Sarri their backing in the summer. It is not merely that, in the Roman Abramovich era, only Jose Mourinho has survived a season without winning the league. It is that the direction for next season could be determined on April 11, and not by the Europa League tie with Slavia Prague.

Chelsea’s appeal against a two-window transfer ban will be heard then. Lose and they will be stuck with their current squad, plus Christian Pulisic, whose signing was sealed early as a precautionary move, and their legion of loanees.

That group could be further depleted by the departure of Hazard, whose ambitions include playing for Zinedine Zidane, or the mismanaged Hudson-Odoi, a January target for Bayern Munich, plus the loan duo of Gonzalo Higuain and Mateo Kovacic and maybe the out-of-contract David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Olivier Giroud.

Lose that appeal and Chelsea will not be able to buy Sarri-style players, even if they wanted to. He is an ideologue. Managing Chelsea next season looks a test of pragmatism.

It requires someone who can adapt to difficult circumstances, who can work with what he inherits, who make an analytical assessment of the way to forge a winning side with others’ players, the ageing, the untried and the seemingly unwanted.

It is not about dogma. It is about man-management. The disgruntled but gifted Andreas Christensen, who has been marginalised by Sarri, said Chelsea will not sell because of the impending ban. He could be pivotal next year.

So could Chelsea’s younger players. Circumstances could propel some of Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori, Reece James and Tammy Abraham into contention and yet, with Hudson-Odoi still yet to begin a league game, only Watford have named an older starting XI than Sarri.

An absence of alternatives could enforce the reintegration and rehabilitation of some of those who were surplus to requirements, like Kurt Zouma, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Michy Batshuayi.

It necessitates the flexibility of thinking and capacity to promote emerging players that Unai Emery has brought to Arsenal. It scarcely feels a task for a manager with a rigid adherence to 4-3-3, a habit of crowbarring players into roles that do not suit them, a lack of faith in youth and a capacity to get less from footballers than many of his predecessors.

Chelsea’s style of play in the Abramovich era has often been pragmatic. Managing them in 2019/20 looks a job for the practical, the realistic and the uncomplaining and Sarri feels wildly impractical.

If results and unrest constitute grounds for dismissal, Sarri could be finished off by something that is not his fault: the transfer ban.

Updated: April 1, 2019 02:47 PM

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