A big chunk of hardware can be very persuasive. There it sits, loud and proud on Maurizio Sarri’s desk in Cobham, the Europa League trophy. Send me packing now, why don’t you, says Sarri as he lights up another cigar.
This is how the negotiation with his employers to which he alluded after the defenestration of Arsenal in Baku might begin, Sarri blowing smoke into the faces of those who thought him cooked at Chelsea after the devastation of the six nil-er at Manchester City in February.
That catch-all “lost the dressing room” was rolled out with certainty. Sarri, pictured below, was dismissed as an inscrutable Italian eccentric, a bank manager out of his depth in the Premier League. His fabled Sarri-ball method was a footballing algorithm beyond the comprehension of players who could connect with neither it nor the coach.
Then there was the Caraboa Cup cataclysm against the same opponents a fortnight later when goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga took a giant hose pipe to what was left of Sarri’s authority and rinsed him on the touchline. Though the defeat by City on penalties was narrow, the overwhelming sense was of a man denuded, reduced, falling.
Even on the eve of the Europa League final, Sarri’s grip on his environment and the group appeared stretched when David Luiz threw an elbow the way of Gonzalo Higuain during a feisty final training session. Off blew Sarri’s top, his cap thrown to the ground and kicked as he walked petulantly from the scene, preparations brought to a pantomime close with 20 minutes of the permitted hour remaining.
What might have been interpreted as an inescapable recidivist twist can now be seen as an endearing foible, a pressure valve, a quirky exhaust for exploding gases. This is not actually damaging to him but life affirming. He simply blows a gasket then comes back with his head the right way around.
So here he is, lording it over a negotiation that was thought to be a clearance exercise freeing him to take over at Juventus. Sarri can now claim to have been right about everything all along. He admits that something changed in February despite the double amputation against City. The fork in the road was indeed reached but the turning we predicted was very different from the one Sarri chose.
Fate also had a hand. Had Chelsea lost at Cardiff at the end of March as it seemed for much of that game they might, the plot might well have acquired sufficient negative thrust to bury him. The displacement of N’Golo Kante for Jorginho, still not fully resolved, was hurting. The fans were on his back. They wanted more of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, less of Mateo Kovacic, Willian and Pedro.
Chelsea netted an offside equaliser and a winner in added time. Cardiff should have had at least one penalty. Chelsea escaped with the points looking twice the team at the end of the match than they did at the start. They have barely looked back since.
The late stomp to third having fallen out of the Champions League places, the appearance in one domestic cup final and victory in Europe is surely evidence that Sarri is finally getting a handle on the group and the demands of the Premier League. So instead of negotiating his release from that three-year contract, the conversation might just be about an enhanced deal and how Sarri plans to respond to the loss of Eden Hazard.
Either way, with Juve seemingly in his pocket and a tangible silver on the table, Sarri is in possession of the ball, which is how he likes it, of course. “I will begin to speak with my club, or with the owner, or with the director, or with Marina [Granovskaia]. We need to know what the club can do for me and what I can do better for the club,” he said. “You know very well that I love the Premier League and the level of the competition. I am lucky because I am at Chelsea, one of the best teams and one of the best clubs in the best championship in the world. So I am happy. But of course, I want to know if the club is happy, if we can improve. So I think it’s normal.”
That’s one way of putting it, Maurizio.