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Chelsea: No Hazard to lose Sarri and vice versa

Saturday 8th June 2019
Hazard Pulisic Lampard Sarri Chelsea Ios Mpalazzotto

There is winning. There is looking good doing it. Both are about prestige. One truth about Chelsea Football Club is they care more about the former than the latter.

Despite his penchant for Italian managers, it’s been documented that Roman Abramovich desired a positive team as well as one that regularly won trophies. Yet, he only ever once sacked a manager who was getting the job done. Rafa Benitez came in for Roberto di Matteo, righted the ship and won a Europa League. The Spaniard could have built on that the next season but it was clear supporters wouldn’t countenance the former Liverpool boss' presence no matter what he did.

You might think Di Matteo deserved more time, having won the Champions League the season before, or Carlo Ancelotti the Premier League, but that is the point. Abramovich is pragmatic to the extreme when Chelsea isn’t winning. His first question is what have you done for me lately?

With that in mind, you can understand why the club is only fighting for compensation rather than for Maurizio Sarri himself.  Yes, Chelsea won the Europa League and Sarri might build upon that. He also did more with Antonio Conte’s broken squad than the man himself.

The difference between the 2017/18 and 2018/19 Blues comes down to Thibaut Courtois, Alvaro Morata and Cesc Fabregas departing with Kepa Arrizabalaga, Gonzalo Higuain, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic arriving. Otherwise, Sarri was selecting from the same components as Conte. He moved N’Golo Kante out wide, left Gary Cahill, Danny Drinkwater, Victor Moses and, to a lesser degree, Andreas Christensen on the bench and played Ross Barkley, Antonio Rudiger, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and, to an agonisingly lesser degree, Callum Hudson-Odoi. The result was that he finished three places higher and won a more [cough]prestigious trophy than Conte the season prior.

Abramovich isn’t blinded by the sheen on that Europa League goblet, however. He can see the breaks went Sarri’s way more than Conte’s when he looks at the team’s goal record in the Premier League.  Conte finished his final campaign with 62 scored and 38 conceded. Sarri’s numbers were nearly identical at 63 and 39. He might even ask why the best striker under the former banker, 32-year-old Olivier Giroud, only produced in the Europa League and conclude his manager’s maverick system is limited in its potential. Thus, he’ll bring in another promising or pedigreed manager, quite possibly Frank Lampard, and roll the dice again.

Meanwhile, fans are fretting about who will carry the team for that new manager now that Eden Hazard is destined for Real Madrid once a fee is agreed and Chelsea appear resigned to serving their two-year transfer ban while their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport continues because it’s likely the ban will be extended an additional year if they don’t.

Caught up in the prestige of landing high-priced talent, Stamford Bridge denizens fear they won’t be able to keep up with the Mancunian and Liverpudlian Joneses. 

Less preoccupied by what other clubs are doing, Abramovich foresaw this problem six months ago. He signed the American winger, Christian Pulisic from Borussia Dortmund, allowing the player to remain in Rhine-Westphalia until the summer. At the time the deal was struck, Blues fans were more intent on an immediate replacement for Alvaro Morata. The Russian oligarch looked ahead.

Because they are reactive and live in the moment, those fans tremble on the edge of panic over the fact Pulisic is nowhere near Hazard’s talent level now. Abramovich is calm because the 20-year-old’s skills are comparable to Hazard’s when he was signed from Lille in 2012 at the age of 21.

In addition to the Yank, Chelsea own 30-odd players on loan at other clubs. Some, like Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi, might be ready to compete for a place in the first team and help the club cope with the transfer pan. It shouldn’t shock anyone that Sarri’s replacement at the club, assuming the deal with Juventus reaches fruition, is a man with a reputation for transforming raw talents into polished professionals.

In addition to Lampard, Ajax’s Erik ten Hag might be high on their list. The Dutchman proved he could win a league and compete in Europe this campaign. Even better, his positive style was developed under Pep Guardiola’s watchful eye as the Bayern Munich 2 boss from 2013-15.

Still, it needn’t be Lampard or Ten Hag. Tactics, expensive players and club heroes aren’t what look good to Roman Abramovich. Nor do FA Cups and Europa Leagues. Only the most prestigious trophies and the managers who win them catch his eye.

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Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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