Maurizio Sarri pledged “eternal love” to Napoli, picked the three best Italian talents, then tipped Juventus and Manchester City for the Champions League.
The lengthy interview with the Corriere dello Sport and transfer expert Alfredo Pedullà took place at Cobham training ground, where the Coach revealed he is allowed to smoke in his office.
“I’ve been here for three months and at the start it was difficult. I arrived in mid-July, those players coming off the World Cup in August and we immediately had a tour in Australia, so there wasn’t much time. I had planned for a longer apprenticeship.
“I was helped by the Spanish players at Chelsea, those who already speak our football language. Now we’re having some fun. We needed a few more weeks at Napoli, but Serie A is different. Here I said to myself: ‘Watch out Maurizio, you dreamed for a lifetime to make this step, so now try to be yourself.’
“I saw the tactical mechanisms worked straight away, the results then pushed us on further.”
The delay was down to a bitter legal battle with Napoli President Aurelio De Laurentiis, who still takes every opportunity to aim barbs at his former tactician in the media.
“I see he continues to say all sorts of things about me… Do me a favour: let’s just finish it with this whole argument. I will love Napoli and its fans for the rest of my life. I know what they think of me, how they think and when they think it. Always.
“Ours is a love that is unshakeable, eternal. The other night, I got so excited during Napoli 1-0 Liverpool. Excellent performance, to the last gasp. I declared, as a fan, that I was pleased to have tired Liverpool out a few days beforehand when they came to Stamford Bridge. The performance from Napoli was excellent.
“However, in Serie A there are no rivals for Juventus. When I used to say that, people thought I was just covering myself, yet they are already breaking away.
“This season, there are two candidates to win the Champions League: Juve and Manchester City. I always thought Pep Guardiola’s side was mature enough for the final step on the European stage, but then we’ll have to see how the Spanish clubs are doing in March. Things change quickly in the Champions League.”
When it comes to the talents in Italian football, Sarri picks the current trident attack expected to start against Poland in the Nations League tomorrow.
“Insigne is the best Italian player right now. His turning point was quite simply believing in himself, more and more. He shook off the uncertainty and the pressure of someone who is forced to be a protagonist of his hometown club.
“If you think about it, this was just a matter of time. I don’t think it was an issue with his position: of course, if he plays closer to the goal as a striker, he’ll get more shots on target, because he has the quality.
“He can do everything. Initially, I had thought of him as a trequartista behind the strikers, then I moved him to the wing. Tactics and technique are bread and butter, I am always here to teach, but ultimately the player has to add his own ingredients, that final pass and the DNA that shakes you up and tells you to go conquer the world.
“That is what’s great about Lorenzo. Now he must keep pushing, as he identified the problem and took control, not just at Napoli either.
“After Lorenzo, I’d put Federico Bernardeschi, who is on his way to soon becoming world class. I’ll add Federico Chiesa in third, as he is a pure talent, generous, dynamic: he has the capabilities of someone born to succeed, he just needs to work on refining.”
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