Maurizio Sarri to AS Roma suddenly makes more sense
Before the EFL Cup final, Maurizio Sarri may have brushed off rumours linking him to AS Roma. After Kepa Arrizabalaga blew him off in front of 80,000 at Wembley and how many millions on the telly and internet, he might revisit the idea.
Social media can't contain itself over the episode in the final moments of the League Cup extravaganza but here are the facts.
- Kepa went down and requested treatment not once but twice.
- With penalties looming, Sarri arranged for Willy Caballero to enter the game when the trainers went out the second time.
- Kepa waved off the substitution, insisting he could finish the match.
- Sarri persisted.
- Kepa kept waving off the substitution in a fashion not unlike the Queen.
- Sarri persisted.
- Disgusted that his boss expected to be obeyed, Kepa upped his game to a bugger-off wave with full arm extension and accompanying shouts.
- Sarri went ballistic.
- Referee Jonathan Moss consulted with Kepa.
- Moss then consulted with Sarri.
- Sarri called off the substitution, ranted at the bench, then made as if to leave the ground, thinking better of it just before reaching the exit. The only thing he didn't do was pat his pockets in search of a cigarette.
- Kepa remained in goal for the penalty kicks.
- Sergio Aguero, who scuffed his attempt, is forever grateful he did.
There are other facts to consider as well.
- Chelsea spent £71.6 million on their goalkeeper.
- The club tends to back its players rather than the managers.
- Even if they felt they couldn't in this instance, the club faces a two-window transfer ban for improper youth recruitment.
Sarri is not a stupid man. After the match, he fell on his sword. Claiming he misunderstood the situation and that Kepa "wasn't wrong" to stay on the pitch, his only criticism was mildly faulting the player's "poor conduct". He knows that as things stand, his days in London are numbered.
When Sarri leaves Chelsea, he shouldn't want for alternatives. The Giallorossi are closest to home, a handy escape route from his Premier League misadventure. Best of all, if a player even looks at him the wrong way, he'll be free to light up and puff away to his heart's content, Italian authorities being more liberal-minded about lung cancer.
When quizzed about the possibility of moving to Rome, Sarri displayed loyalty.
No, I have a contract with Chelsea for the next two seasons so it is impossible to have another contract.
But as Kepa's insubordination proves, nothing is impossible in football.
Chelsea was tricked by Sarri's attacking charm. At Napoli and Empoli, he showed an uncommon knack for expansive, possession-based football unseen at Stamford Bridge. Predecessors Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte were pragmatic.
Barely eight months on, the spell wore off. The Blues were in a precarious situation, bitterly disillusioned by Sarri's dogged tactical approach. The recent 4-0 and 6-0 losses to Bournemouth and Manchester City, respectively, were historically bad results. Overall form across the winter period was wretched. Sarri's lack of tactical flexibility became too glaring. A 2-0 defeat to Manchester United made it seem he'd never change his ways.
Against City at Wembley, he did. His squad played with a defensive cohesion that frustrated Europe's most vaunted attack for 120 minutes. Just when it appeared he'd gotten through to his squad, Kepa betrayed him. It's important to note that no Chelsea players attempted to usher the keeper off the pitch. When asked about the incident after the match, Blues captain Cesar Azpilicueta tried to remain uninvolved.
I don't know, I was on the other side of the pitch. So I can't comment.
Even if the club acknowledges the manager got his tactics right in the biggest match of the season only to be undermined by a player, it's difficult to see Sarri remaining in the job beyond this season. Roma holds the axe over Eusebio de Francesco in readiness. Reports allege the 60-year-old held secret talks with the Giallorossi hierarchy. If it's at all true, the potential switch is perfect for both parties.
Roma desperately wants out of the De Francesco experiment less than two years after kick-off. The 49-year-old promised much but now offers little. His once-respected fluid attack backed by solid defensive coverage disappeared. Witness the 7-1 thrashing by Fiorentina.
Last season, the Giallorossi showed courage and character to reach the Champions League semi-final. That memorable second-leg triumph over Barcelona is yet to be forgotten. However, key elements in that squad are missing, most notably Radja Nainggolan. The massive turnover in the summer window affected Roma much like the two-year yard sale at Monaco affected Leonardo Jardim. Di Francesco struggles to blend his new group together.
For the first time in six seasons, Roma could actually miss out on the Champions League. With 41 points, the Romans are fifth on the log, four behind AC Milan. Lazio and Atalanta are right on their back. If the slide continues, they could miss Europe altogether.
Maurizio Sarri is no Thierry Henry. Bringing him in could turn I Lupi's fortunes around. Remember the start Chelsea enjoyed under the Italian. Sarri's experience at Napoli suggests an initial surge would be sustainable in Serie A whereas it wasn't in the Premier League.
Sarri would build on Di Francesco's progress while shedding the impediments. Whether he takes Jorginho along remains to be seen. His pet midfielder isn't adjusting well to the Premier League but that transfer ban puts Chelsea in a bind. They need players.
That should matter little to Roma, however. Sarri is the man they want. He is the finished version of Di Francesco. With Monchi handling transfer business, a suitable stand-in for Jorginho can be found.
Sarri must be wise. Rome, not London, is the Eternal City.