How do you solve a problem like Maurizio Sarri?by Andy Dillon / 07 May 2019, 09:56Tweet
There's been some considerable distance between Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and the club’s fans this season.
Roughly 2,000 miles most weeks with the Russian billionaire now an Israeli citizen and yet to be seen at Stamford Bridge or any of his team’s matches to be precise.
That yawning gulf could well become a gaping chasm this summer if Abramovich makes the wrong move when it comes to the head coach.
It’s probably unwise to tell an elusive Russian oligarch to watch his back but Abramovich faces a genuine dilemma once this seemingly endless season finally draws to a close.
It looks like stretching all the way to May 29 now as Sarri is odds on to lead Chelsea into the Europa League final all the way over in Azerbaijan - Abramovich will surely be there for that.
That may well be his first game of a campaign which has yielded a return to the Champions League and possibly two cup finals, yet Sarri remains deeply unpopular with the supporters.
Abramovich will get first hand experience of the resentment for the first time in Baku. And it’s posing big problems for the club hierarchy.
How do you solve a problem like Maurizio?
The chain-smoking Italian looks like exceeding expectations in only the first of a three-year contract. There have been huge ups and downs but on the whole Sarri has done his job - and beyond.
Chelsea are back in the Premier League top four, they got to the Carabao Cup final and lost on penalties to the best team in the country. Barring any disasters on Thursday night against Eintracht Frankfurt they will contest the Europa League final and Sarri could end up with the first trophy of his managerial career.
Yet a large number of the supporters would like nothing more than for Abramovich to stick with tradition and engage in his favourite hobby of sacking a successful manager.
It was easy with Jose Mourinho three-and-a-half years ago; the team was facing relegation and the players despised him.
The axing of Antonio Conte had been on the cards for a while with this Italian’s abrasive nature constantly sniping at the board, wearing away at his bosses to the point of no return - even if he had just won the FA Cup.
But Sarri has played it cool and clever. There have been no sideswipes at his paymasters, no griping, no attacks on the transfer policy; even when Abramovich flogged his best passer of the ball in Cesc Fabregas last January and failed to replace him.
Abramovich must be keeping up with results and watching the games on TV, getting feedback remotely from his henchmen and women on the Chelsea board.
But nothing can give you a feel for a situation like actually being there, even in this hi-tech age.
And as recently as Sunday the paying punters were voicing their frustrations and displeasure at Sarri as his team struggled to get into gear against Watford.
They had played a European semi final abroad against a tough German side just three days prior and were understandably leggy. Yet with the score at 0-0 at half time, there were loud boos ringing around the ground.
There was a chance to jump on Sarri and the fans seized the moment with gusto. When Chelsea went on to win 3-0 there was no remorse either.
With relations at such a low ebb between the manager and those who consider his football turgid, then there is no way back. Sarri won’t change.
Abramovich wants a successful team - well, he has one now. But for years he also wanted to create a new brand in world football.
A bunch of swashbuckling superstars playing cavalier football which isn’t happening right now the way it is at Manchester City and Liverpool.
The owner has to decide what comes first? The need for success and trophies or keeping the customers onside and increasing the global appeal of brand Chelsea?
Russians with links to big business don’t normally shy away from making big calls but this one might just be the toughest of his life.