Maurizio Sarri has done his job - but he's still not wanted at Chelsea
By securing Champions League football, with a match to spare, Maurizio Sarri has done what was asked of him. But Stamford Bridge won't be warming to him any time soon, writes Dan Levene.
Maurizio Sarri manager of Chelsea speaks with Eden Hazard during the UEFA Europa League Quarter Final Second Leg match between Chelsea and Slavia Praha at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2019 in London, England.
As damp squibs go, this year's 'lap of appreciation' probably wasn't as soggy as last year's.
The players plodded a circuit of Stamford Bridge, before a fraction of the ground's capacity, led by non-playing captain Gary Cahill – who will leave this summer, after six and a half hugely successful years, and one sat on the sidelines.
Earlier in the day, Cahill had told some home truths in a national newspaper, about the way he had been treated by Sarri: saying it was hard to have respect for the man who had completely removed him from the first team set-up.
It was notable, as Cahill led that lap of appreciation, that Sarri was nowhere to be seen: only briefly coming out of the tunnel to supervise from his technical area; before disappearing once more.
Even Rafa Benitez joined that lap in an earlier year. Even Avram Grant.
Maurizio Sarri, head caoch of Chelsea during the UEFA Europa League Semi Final First Leg match between Eintracht Frankfurt and Chelsea at Commerzbank-Arena on May 02, 2019 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
Image credit: Getty Images
It was, perhaps, a good job there was no popularity contest put to play: for Sarri at least.
He has made good on the most important of his pre-season targets: to restore Chelsea to the Champions League.
The news did not come through until later on Sunday – following Arsenal's draw with Brighton – but an aspiration which seemed highly unlikely not so long ago, has been met.
It matters not whether that was down to the constant choking of Spurs and Arsenal – job done.
Where Sarri has struggled far more is in that popularity contest.
Almost as important as restoring the team to the top class, was a requirement to play a version of football that was easy on the eye.
Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard (PA)
Image credit: PA Sport
And Chelsea, this season, have been dreadful to watch.
Noticeable quantities of fans have been staying away, and the open rebellion against Sarriball from the stands has made itself heard on several occasions.
At this stage of the season there are always a few who say they can't be bothered to renew their season tickets: the difference this year, anecdotally at least, is in the number who actually mean it.
Cahill's words added weight to an accumulation of well-sourced reports about dressing room disaffection.
The players don't like the training. Sarri's interpersonal skills are limited, particularly if your face doesn't fit. And they dislike making Sarriball - just as much as the paying fans dislike consuming it.
Players talk: and while Champions League qualification is clearly a carrot to join the club (should the transfer ban be overturned – but that's another story); Sarri's presence is said not to be good for recruitment.
Sarri appears as unhappy as everyone else with this arrangement.
If he is to go out, winning the Europa League would make it happen on a high, and would remove that 'no trophies' stick, so often used to beat him.
He is well enough regarded, back in Italy, to make a Serie A job a realistic option this summer.
And that would mean no need for an expensive pay-off, and a messy public divorce.
Chelsea tried Sarriball for a season: and, despite what the league table says, it didn't really work.
Next season's model will have to look very different.