COMMENT: Maurizio Sarri. If it was up to him, he'd stay. If it was up to certain higher ups, including Marina Granovskaia, he'd stay. Yet no matter the result in Baku on Wednesday, momentum... the media's momentum... is telling us Chelsea will be parting with their manager.
Of course, we've been here before. Midseason. The same rumour-mill was churning away. Sarri had lost the fans. He'd lost the dressing room. And most importantly of all, he'd lost the confidence of Roman Abramovich. At the time, club sources insisted differently. Confidants of Granovskaia, who drove Sarri's appointment personally, said the same. And Chelsea's addition of Sarri's old Napoli striker in January, Gonzalo Higuain, really should've been the end of it. But it wasn't.
In the end, the sack stories were proven unfounded. Those pedaling the claims happily explained them away by Chelsea's upturn in results.
Now they're at it again. Champions League qualification is secured. And Sarri's players are now preparing for a second Cup final appearance of the season. For a first shot at a club abroad, the Italian hasn't done too badly. Yet as Chelsea prepare for this week's Europa League final, Sarri - and his players - are having to bat away questions about his status. The uncertainty. The speculation. At anyother club, it'd end their Cup final preparations before they'd begun. But this is Chelsea. Abramovich's Chelsea. They simply aren't any old club. As David Luiz, the Brazilian defender, suggested on Friday. This is routine. The players. The staff. They're used to it.
Joking with his interviewer, Luiz asked aloud, "How many is it? Six? Seven?", he quizzed when considering the number of managers he's worked with as a Chelsea player. And that's not counting the two years he was away with PSG.
"To be the manager of Chelsea means they did something great," insisted Luiz. "Every one of them had their style and way of football; their way to think football, to teach football. I tried to learn something from every single one."
Not exactly a recipe for stability. But it's an approach that has produced success. And with it, a culture that simply breeds speculation. This is the reality now. Not just for Sarri, but for his successor. Even if that's Frank Lampard. Or John Terry. No amount of emotional ties will save Chelsea's manager from sack rumours. Even when they've gone beyond their initial brief, this Chelsea culture will never be shaken.
For this column. As a fan of English football. Sarri should stay. Indeed, he should be allowed to fulfill his contract - and his brief. To bring Sarriball to the Premier League. To add a new tactical dimension to local players like Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. And to bring through the likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi on his terms - not those of some ex-player criticising from the TV sofa.
But for his sake. When moving from the world of theory and hope to reality. This column would advise Sarri to take the offer and run.
In Italy, they're saying the deal is done. Well, almost done. Sarri has negotiated his terms (and just wait until you see this). He's shaken hands on it. But as we've already mentioned, he's not rushing out the door. If it was up to him, Sarri would be looking forward to a preseason in London, not Turin.
But this is Chelsea. And contingencies must always be considered. You can't blame a manager for having a backup plan. Especially when that job is with Chelsea. So Sarri has struck a deal with Fabio Paratici, Juve's sporting director. The agreement worth an initial €6m-a-year, which could rise to €7m dependent on silverware.
Just as they did a year ago with Ronaldo - taking advantage as Real Madrid dithered over meeting new contract demands. Juve are paying what Sarri believes he's worth. At Chelsea he arrived on a flat salary of €3.5m, moving from Napoli where their outspoken president, Aurelio De Laurentiis refused to consider raising his €1.4m-a-year wages. In a couple of days time, Sarri could double his money - and as a European champion to boot.
This will be a step up for Sarri. From Napoli to Chelsea to the pinnacle. At least in terms of Italian football. And what's more, he's not having to make any personal compromises. Nor regarding the transfer market. Paul Pogba, of Manchester United. Higuain's return from his Blues loan. And the prospect of Sergio Ramos following Ronaldo from Madrid. This has all been discussed between Sarri, Paratici and Fali Ramadani, the Italian's agent. It's a dream offer. A dream job.
Yet, when Ramadani visits London later this week, he'll know Sarri will ask him - again - to seek assurances from Granovskaia. To give it one last try. He doesn't want to abandon this project after just 12 months. Even with a two-window transfer ban now in place. Even with a section of the Blues crowd demanding to see him go. And even with the sack culture that follows him to every pre- and post-match presser. Sarri's preference is to stay.
But Ramadani has the contingency in place. And both men know where the momentum is heading. It's just a shame - as things stand today - we won't see Sarriball at it's best as a Chelsea concept.