Maurizio Sarri to Juventus was unexpected – above all to those who pushed the Pep Guardiola narrative far beyond the point of improbability – but despite the protests of Napoli, Chelsea and even Bianconeri supporters, it does make perfect sense to all concerned.
Let me be clear: Guardiola was the first choice for the Old Lady, that is surely beyond dispute, but was never really on the cards. I am sure they did approach the Manchester City boss, but the speculation about him signing a pre-contract agreement or even trying to extricate himself from his current role was little more than a way of inflating the club’s share price on the stock exchange. It worked a treat, that is Luciano Moggi level sneakiness, using the media desperation for a story to boost your own finances. Again, everyone benefited: the club got richer, the papers sold more during the quiet period of the summer and people tuned in to the various talk shows, Twitter feeds and radio stations.
If you can’t get Guardiola but want his style of football and someone who already knows Serie A well, then Sarri is your next logical step. Max Allegri’s goose was cooked not just after the Champions League exit to Ajax, but above all following the on-air row with Sky Sport Italia pundit Lele Adani.
The argument Adani put forward – that a team like Juventus ought to focus on attacking, pro-active football more than the old Antonio Conte credo of ‘suffering’ for a result and still be successful – was absolutely true. You can’t bring in Cristiano Ronaldo and expect to play defensively. Liverpool showed attack is the best form of defence, as long as you also have a pretty strong defender back there too.
Sarri struggled at Chelsea for a few reasons, if you can count third place in the Premier League, winning the Europa League and reaching the Carabao Cup Final ‘struggling.’ He arrived very late into pre-season due to Aurelio De Laurentiis stalling – more on that later – and the players never really got the hang of his tactics. It’s about knowing the movements so well that you can pass the ball rapidly into the space where your teammate will be rather than directly to the player.
Chelsea players weren’t prepared to get the drills down, so gave it only to the nearest teammate, which resulted in lots of pointless horizontal passing. They were also deathly slow. It’s the difference between someone typing with one finger as they search the keyboard compared to a touch-typist who just looks at the screen.
In time, they would’ve probably learned and shown more than glimpses of Sarri’s football, but the baying mob at Stamford Bridge ensured we’ll never know. Enjoy Frank Lampard.
Now for the Napoli fans – and some players – who have been decrying his ‘betrayal’ by joining Juventus. Get over yourselves. Ditto to the Juventini calling for Antonio Conte’s star to be removed from the Bianconeri Hall of Fame. Do you really expect your heroes to never work again and just sit in a crumbling old house like Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, wearing her wedding dress for the rest of her life after she was jilted at the altar?
This is not how the world works, nor should it. Napoli fans seem to have made Sarri out to be some sort of Che Guevara figure leading the rebellion against the oppressive regime of Juventus. It’s easy to sit outside railing at the powers that be, claiming you won the ‘moral Scudetto’ and feed conspiracy theories. It’s far more difficult to be in a position of genuine power and enact change.
Here we come to the other issue that Napoli fans are conveniently forgetting: there’s a reason so many of your heroes feel obliged to leave and that is Aurelio De Laurentiis. Gonzalo Higuain made no secret of the fact he felt pushed out by his clashes with the President. Sarri wanted guarantees on the future, but instead of working to give him what he was asking for, De Laurentiis hired someone else and then made it his mission to delay the Chelsea move for as long as possible, knowing full well how important pre-season training was to his tactics.
De Laurentiis is vindictive, petty, wallows in self-pitying conspiracy theories and pushing out anyone who tries to force him into spending money. If Sarri couldn’t show what he can achieve at the Stadio San Paolo, he’ll do it in Turin and nobody should begrudge him that opportunity. He might even be inadvertently giving Napoli a better chance at the title, as Carlo Ancelotti’s team start to hit their stride in the second season and Sarri will take a while to get his approach working at Juve.
There’s only one set of fans who can genuinely talk about betrayal and that is Roma. The treatment of Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi has been utterly shameful, not to mention counter-productive too. Sarri was only at Napoli for three seasons, whereas those two committed their entire careers to the Giallorossi cause only to be shoved out the door. Football is a business now, but even businesses must be run with a little humanity.