Is Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri a future replacement for Antonio Conte at Chelsea?by Chloe Beresford / 25 October 2017, 19:18Tweet
Napoli’s recent appearance in the Champions League against Manchester City made football fans across the globe sit up and take notice of a project that has been quietly building since Maurizio Sarri took over at the beginning of 2015/16.
A 2-1 defeat did not even see the Partenopei play at their very best, but their display impressed the master of tiki-taka, Pep Guardiola.
“They are one of best teams I ever faced as a professional. That is why I am so proud because you cannot beat Napoli unless you produce a good performance,” the City boss told reporters after the match.
"I knew before we played and I know now - they are one of the best teams in Europe at the moment. It's one of the wins I'm most proud of in my whole career.”
High praise indeed for the Naples-born tactician, who honed his craft in the Italian lower leagues after quitting his job as a bank manager in 1990. It is not just Guardiola that has noticed the superb work that has been done at the club, however. Italian media outlet 7 gold have reported that Chelsea are lining up a move for the 58-year-old after their relationship with current boss Antonio Conte has turned sour.
Of course, the former Italy boss has spoken of homesickness on several occasions during his tenure at Stamford Bridge. With a high-profile vacancy at AC Milan potentially in the pipeline, the former Italy and Juventus man has been heavily linked as a candidate to return to the peninsula.
“I miss it, that’s beyond doubt,” Conte told Italian radio station Radio Uno in September. “Italy is my homeland, so once I have had some good experiences, formative experiences, important and life-changing experiences, I’ll be back. I don’t know when but that’s the aim.”
That was even after he had made steps to bring his family to London, having lived alone in the capital for several months after he first signed a contract with the Blues. He subsequently backtracked on what was said in that interview - blaming poor translation - but even without the homesickness, the problems remain.
A long and drawn-out saga with Diego Costa plus tensions over the summer transfer market disrupted his pre-season plans and, after nine games, Chelsea remain nine points behind leaders Manchester City. A typically energetic and aggressive style propelled the Blues to the title last term, but it now seems like that approach is running out of steam.
A raft of injuries this term has been blamed on an overly-harsh training regime, a fact consistent with Conte always working towards draining every last drop of effort from his players. Owner Roman Abramovich has a well-documented lack of patience with his Coaches and - coupled with the fact Maurizio Sarri is undoubtedly hot property at the moment - he may decide to wield the axe once more.
The problem with Sarri is two-fold, however. Firstly, his success with Napoli this term has been steadily built, and the fruits of his labour are just beginning to show at the start of his third season in charge. Hard-graft in training with a drone and consistent drills has educated his squad in the skill of his passing game that has become known as “Sarrismo” but the key to his success is largely based on a settled squad.
With limited experience even in the Italian top flight, it is difficult to imagine that he would be able to seamlessly slot into Chelsea’s setup and even more implausible that he would deliver the kind of immediate results that would be required of him.
Secondly is the question of whether he would want to leave Napoli before his project there was finished. There is an ¤8 million release clause in his contract that would be no problem for the Premier League club to settle but that would depend on whether they could lure the perfectionist Coach to England.
“On a contractual level, there’s a clause which allows the club and myself to have different solutions,” Sarri confirmed during an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“It’s the last thing on my mind right now though. I feel very close to this city and this group, although I know that at a certain point things finish in a natural way.”
This “natural finishing point” would surely be completing his mission of a Scudetto win with Napoli, but if they manage to pull it off this season maybe Maurizio Sarri could find himself on a plane to England next summer.