Why Sarri seems here to stay
Maurizio Sarri seems at first glance to be of a nervous disposition. A chain-smoking chewer of spent cigarette butts, he dresses more like a hospital orderly than the buttoned-up modern manager of a European superclub.
But then being the head coach of Chelsea is a fraught task. Sarri is the 15thmanager of the Roman Abramovich era, which began in 2003, whereas there had been only 24 to serve in the role across the near hundred years of the club’s prior existence.
Added to that is the fact that Sarri is deeply unpopular with his own club’s fans. They have taken to calling for the Italian’s head in matches. It’s enough to make anyone reach for the Marlboro reds.
Oddly, though, despite all the pressures, despite the embarrassing results like the 4-0 defeat away to Bournemouth and the 6-0 reverse away to Manchester City, Sarri stays.
Is Roman Abramovich mellowing in his 50s? For a man who learned all he knows about politics and power from Vladimir Putin, that seems unlikely.
Has the Russian lost interest in his British bauble in the Premier League, in view of his visa issues with the UK government? Well, that is again implausible. These problems were widely inferred as the reason for his withdrawal from a £1 billion Stamford Bridge stadium redevelopment but there is a big difference between that and the removal of yet another head coach.
Is it because Abramovich suddenly cannot afford to sack him? Well Abramovich plainly could, but if he has decided to reduce the external funding he injects into Chelsea, then this would bear more weight than the other suggestions. There will be more to examine on this when Chelsea’s 2017-18 accounts are made public.
Actually, look at the club’s financial information, and it seems the explanation could very well lie elsewhere.
The thing is, after 15 major trophies since Abramovich came on the scene in early in the 21stCentury, modern Chelsea fans no longer to be satisfied by winning alone.
That much can be seen from the startling decline in Chelsea’s match-day revenues between the 2011-2 and 2016-17 season. These fell steadily year on year, as the chart below shows.
When looking at what the impact has been on the inflation-adjusted, real-terms revenues, these have fallen by about 25% in pound-sterling terms alone.
And in an inflationary football environment, where for Europe’s biggest clubs revenues are rising across the board at breakneck speed – far faster than in domestic-currency terms – this kind of deflationary pressure on a major internally generated revenue stream is really not good.
If the local punters are not prepared to pay for the product, it is likely that in the longer term it will become harder to persuade major blue-chip brands the club is worth supporting with their corporate commercial partnerships.
So it seems Chelsea took steps to address this.
The appointment of Sarri, with his unique take on the possession game, was a pendulum swing away from the old Chelsea DNA of direct, aggressive football that successful prior coaches Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte have made their calling card.
There doesn’t appear to be too much concern that Sarri has never won a trophy as a manager. Maybe that is down to Chelsea’s board recognising their big-spending days are over, only time will tell whether they really are – although here at Football DNA we have our suspicions.
The problem for Chelsea and Abramovich, though, is that this attempt to improve the product on show is also being rejected by the fans who just don’t like what they see in the early stages of the Sarriball project.
It seems for now at least the owner is prepared to face down the faithful and let Sarri get on with the job in hand.
But that could take time, because the years of investment in the type of physical players admired by Mourinho and Conte will not go far with the tippy-tappy brand of football Sarri favours.
And if it does, Chelsea fans are faced with a choice: get behind the man they’re stuck with, or join the many others who have already voted with their feet.