Former Manchester United full-back Gary Neville has called on Chelsea to stick with Maurizio Sarri despite the club’s struggles to perform under the Italian this season. Back in the summer, the Blues replaced Antonio Conte with the former Napoli boss over concerns about morale in the dressing room and the team’s style of play.
During his time in Italy, Sarri coached at 18 different clubs, and came to be regarded as a mavrick tactician whose teams played intense and attacking football. He has never won a major title in his career, and previously worked in finance as a banker – but his Napoli side were rated as one of the most entertaining teams in Europe.
Under Sarri, they achieved their three best-ever seasons for points won and goals scored in Serie A, and gained admirers in the likes of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, who presided over a 6-0 defeat of the Blues to leave the Italian facing questions over his future.
On Sky Sports, Neville backed the Chelsea boss and called on Roman Abramovich to show why he appointed the 60-year-old in the first place. “If the ownership of the club really do want a higher quality of football then they’re going to have to live through the change.Now’s not the time to go weak on that. Now what we’ll see in the next 24 to48 hours whether Chelsea have the belief that they do want to follow through with it.”
“In the past I agree, they’ve changed [Andre] Villas-Boas, they’ve changed [Luiz Felipe] Scolari. Are they going to stick with Sarri? If they really want this type of football in the long term they’re going to have to maintain a position of the club and live through the pain and change.”
Conte wasn’t the first successful Chelsea manager to be sacked over an impatience with the team’s style of play. Jose Mourinho won three Premier League titles across two spells in charge at Stamford Bridge. It is understood that Abramovich’s frustration over the quality of football was part of the reason why the Portuguese ran into trouble at the club, especially during his first stint as manager, athough other factors played their part in his two exits in 2007 and 2015.
“It’s never been what they’ve done before but it’s how intent are they on seeing that style change,” added Neville. “If they’re intent on that style of football changing, they’re going to have to maintain a manager and not go back to something that’s happened before. You talk about Roman Abramovich being motivated by Pep Guardiola’s style of play, which is 75 to 80% possession. Chelsea have never been like that.”