Richard Buxton: Win or lose, Maurizio Sarri still loses
The Italian is more hated than loved in London, and is destined to join Chelsea's list of managerial casualties
Win or lose in Baku, Azerbaijan, the die is already cast on Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea tenure.
Logistically difficult and deemed largely insignificant; tomorrow morning’s (Singapore time) Europa League final is symbolic of everything that his Stamford Bridge reign has become.
The Italian is hated more than he should be revered in London and is destined to join the list of managerial casualties onset by Roman Abramovich’s near-annual binary choice.
Most summers, the Blues’ now-absentee owner has alternated between silverware and sackings. The former tends to be not enough to stave off the latter.
The fate of Sarri’s predecessor Antonio Conte – who was deposed despite following up his English Premier League title triumph in 2016/17 with the FA Cup victory the following season – is a notable cautionary tale.
But it is the man he succeeded at Napoli that offers the far more striking comparison.
Rafael Benitez faced persistent calls for his departure during a half-season where he had been undermined at the outset by Chelsea’s self-imposed job title of “interim manager”.
On more than one occasion in that 2012/2013 campaign, he too appeared to be teetering on the brink in west London.
Against that backdrop of hostility, the current Newcastle United manager steered Chelsea to a third-place finish in the EPL and tangible success in the Europa League final.
Fans revelled in a brief status as reigning dual European champions but that was the sum of their gratitude.
Benitez’s past affiliation with, and continued affection for, Liverpool ensured that his legacy remains largely unspoken in spite of its achievements.
Media outbursts didn’t help his case, neither did replacing Champions League-winning manager and former hero in Roberto di Matteo.
Like Benitez, however, Sarri was under no illusions as to what he had signed up for when replacing Conte last summer.
As a former banker, he knew that there was always going to be a certain amount of risk involved in such a temperamental environment.
Unpopular decisions ran through his and Benitez’s respective stints, but the incumbent’s decision to wage war on Chelsea’s dressing room was destined to be futile.
Feuding with Kepa Arrizabalaga in the midst of February’s League Cup final defeat compounded the already fatal mistake to publicly marginalise club captain Gary Cahill.
Such misplaced acts of ruthlessness have limited patience, along with the implementation of “Sarri-ball”.
Serie A proved to be Abramovich’s solution in successive appointments and could again solve his current headache.
Sarri’s work, in almost breaking Juventus’ seven-year stranglehold on the Italian title during his final season with Napoli, is likely to lead to a return to his homeland, where he has been linked to his former nemesis and AS Roma.
But, if both of Chelsea fans’ wishes – sacking Sarri and anointing Frank Lampard as his replacement – are granted, they risk falling even further behind the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.
Lampard’s heroics as a player are slowly being replicated in the dugout with Derby County, as evidenced by reaching Monday’s Championship play-off final with Aston Villa.
Yet, he is no more the messiah than his former teammate di Matteo proved in the long run.
A cursory glance across the touchline in Baku illustrates the merits of persistence.
Arsenal’s debut season under Unai Emery has not been flawless.
But it could still yield a muchanticipated return to the Champions League via a tournament which is firmly their new manager’s forte.
Emery inherited a squad which was far more problematic than that of his opposite number, but an all-too-familiar capitulation towards the season’s end cost the Gunners a guaranteed place in Europe’s premier club competition.
Overcoming their London rivals offers them a belated redemption.
Whatever happens in Baku, Sarri will still end up on the losing side.
Every Chelsea manager invariably does.
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