In October, Gazzetta dello Sport completed a study in which they compared how much each club has paid its Coach to gain a point in the League. Maurizio Sarri, at that point, proved to be the most cost effective tactician. As the lowest paid in the league, each point he had won with Empoli had cost the club €12,500. Inter’s then-Coach, Walter Mazzarri by contrast was the worst in the League, costing his club €103,000 for every point he had accrued.
The study, along with some impressive tactics at the Stadio Carlo Castellini made the world stand up and take notice of the man in charge at little Empoli - a team made up of youngsters and unknowns. Well-organised, extremely fit and delightful to watch, the squad was simply not succumbing to the pressures and quality of their Serie A rivals as expected. Instead, they were thriving. From November 9 until early January, the team didn’t lose a single game and while many of their matches resulted in a draw, the fluidity of the squad captured the peninsula’s attention and mesmerised the critics.
Sarri, a tactician who had never tasted the difficulty of top flight football, was garnering praise. Not only were his players perfectly executing his ideals but the man’s blatant disregard for the glamorous side of football inspired curiosity. Far from well-groomed and seemingly crabby, it was made abundantly clear this Coach cared only for tactics and had no desire for media training. He was not out to impress, he was a mere student of the beautiful game.
A complete package of a man, Sarri worked in the world of banking prior to his decision to follow his dreams. Having lived in various different European cities, dealing with big money transactions, he is not only well educated and supremely organised but an idealist with a sense of righteousness. His view of the world and of football is always evolving and Sarri has an opinion on everything, from the written constitution to literature and fine art.
Having opted to follow his dreams and join the football world, Empoli’s man in charge sought success and achieved it through a journey of discovery, by training youngsters, players deemed unwanted and men with little to no understanding of professional behaviour. He concluded that only meticulous preparation and profound knowledge can defeat opponents. As such, he leaves nothing to chance and every eventuality is planned for in detail.
His players understand what to do when in possession and how to run when they lose the ball. The men they face are studied in great detail with dossiers prepared so that each player understands potential pitfalls and the weaknesses that can be exploited with efficiency.
Fond of the 4-2-3-1, Sarri now utilises the 4-3-1-2 shape but while the formations have changed the priorities remain in order. Defence is of the utmost importance.
Full-backs play exhaustive roles and midfield dictates play and the transitions. Once his squad are aware of the challenge, they prepare the tactics and select four or five strategies to implement from dead-ball situations. Each scheme is named after a member of staff and once the occasion arises, they shout out the name of the selected strategy and each man takes his place, ready to execute the plan.
This perhaps explains why Empoli have scored as many goals from open play as they have from dead ball situations, 13 on each. It also explains why Sarri has been dubbed ‘Mister 33’. The Coach reportedly had studied and prepared 33 different schemes to utilise in dead-ball situations but it’s a label he rejects.
Sarri has admitted big matches can render him obsessed, studying up to 13 hours in hopes of achieving the results he yearns. While one can only applaud such devotion to tactics and improvement, it’s made abundantly clear that ultimately, this Coach only trusts himself and complete preparation. His players are mere soldiers in his plan and while this particular strategy works immensely well at youth level and in smaller clubs, it may prove problematic with more professional players who desire freedom to express their talent.