As featured on NewsNow: Football news

Sarri & Chelsea support: Why this'll work if Abramovich holds his nerve

COMMENT: A disaster, right? Players clashing with fans. Season tickets being thrown onto the pitch. A result not seen in 28 years. Chelsea and Maurizio Sarri are in crisis. The separation can only be a matter of days. Maybe even hours, right...?

Put yourself in the shoes of a Blues away supporter and you can feel the frustration. Even anger. Losing at Arsenal. Shipping four at Bournemouth. Six at Manchester City. This just doesn't happen. It can't happen. Not to Chelsea. Especially not to Roman Abramovich's Chelsea.

But what are witnessing? Another Chelsea implosion? Players at war with their manager. The manager at war with the board. Accusations of downing tools. Playing favourites. They've all had an airing in the last 48 hours.

Even the Madrid press - if you haven't caught up with it today - have spied their chance. With Eden Hazard as coy as ever about jumping ship for Real Madrid, AS have run no less than THREE stories today on Sarri, his broken relationship with the players and even some instructing their agents to find new clubs in the event the Italian is kept on. A floater? A flyer? Or simply the Madridista press doing Florentino Perez's bidding? Whatever the source (or inspiration) give them credit for seeing the opportunity and running with it.

But what are we witnessing? Could it be, as this column discussed with a source working below the Blues first team, that this was all expected? Not the four goals at Dean Court. And certainly not the six at City. Not these results. But the defeats. Could they have been anticipated going into this season? A first season under Sarri. A first committed to a style of football never demanded of this generation?

We'll let our source, as such a theory was was put to him, to expand: "Yeah, you have a point. You need to remember, Sarri's game is something we haven't seen for probably six or seven years. (Antonio) Conte and Jose (Mourinho), while different, were also the same, if you know what I mean. What the players are doing now is like a 180."

So the growing pains are going to be felt. The odd clanger is going to be dropped. And while he can lean on Jorginho in midfield and now Gonzalo Higuain in attack, Sarri is working with a relatively young team. A young team shaped by the strict, defensive demands of Antonio Conte. And before him Jose Mourinho. Sarri didn't arrive to build on what his predecessors had put in place. His job was to rip up those foundations and start again.

This is what Roman Abramovich had sought. It's the brief the owner gave Marina Granovskaia, his No2, when seeking to replace Conte. He wanted entertainment. Winning football was no longer enough. Which was why Granovskaia pushed and pushed... and pushed Aurelio De Laurentiis again until the Napoli president relented and released Sarri from his contract.

And it's also why all the noise since Sunday is just that... noise. There's an understanding through the club - including from Abramovich - they've taken on something completely different in Sarri. This isn't a manager with a light touch. One to simply rally and motivate an established group of players. This is one to transform a club's culture. Their approach to the game. And how it is played.

As an aside, for this column, there is a question to be raised. If the manager and his Sarriball is the way forward for Chelsea. And we side with those whom believe it is. Then shouldn't the Sarri blueprint be employed throughout the club's academy? To be fair it is, but only to a point. And really for this cultural shift to truly take off, much like we see at La Masia in Barcelona or the Etihad Campus at City, Sarriball needs to be practiced by all of Chelsea's youth and junior teams.

For all the finger pointing and doomsaying of pundits, the most astute observation to be made in the past week came via Chelsea's Champions League winner Mikel John Obi, now of Middlesbrough.

"When I watch them now, they're fantastic players but I don't see leaders," he observed. "When I watch them, there's no one talking to each other, taking responsibility of being the leader. You need that edge and right now that's what they're lacking."

The Nigerian would also name-check those leaders he won titles with - Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Ashley Cole and John Terry. There's certainly no-one of the same calibre in the current squad.

Which Sarri touched upon in the aftermath of Sunday, declaring "in the last three or four matches we were without a reaction from the first difficulty so we need to understand".

A young team. A cultural shift in approach. And a manager in his first season in a new competition and in a foreign country. There's always going to be slips. Growing pains. That's football.

But with Sarri it's a style of football which will succeed. That is, so long as Abramovich holds his nerve. Even after an experience like Sunday.

Chris Beattie
About the author

Chris Beattie

Have your say

Subscribe and go ad-free

For only $10 a year

  1. Go Ad-Free
  2. Faster site experience
  3. Support great writing
  4. Subscribe now
Launch Offer: 2 months free

Subscribe and go ad-free

For only $10 a year

Subscribe now
Launch Offer: 2 months free