LONDON, United Kingdom, Jul 14 – A chainsmoking former banker who doesn’t believe coaching a football team is worthy of the term ‘work’, Chelsea’s new manager Maurizio Sarri is certainly not the norm.
Sarri was appointed on Saturday on a three contract, less than 24 hours after the sacking of Antonio Conte.
The 59-year-old — who becomes Roman Abramovich’s ninth full-time manager in his 15 years as owner — couldn’t be more different in terms of background to his fellow Italian Conte.
He may not have a trophy to his name, but he turned Napoli into genuine title contenders.
They finished second twice and third on the other occasion behind Juventus, last season becoming the first club to break the 90-points barrier and fall short of the league crown.
However, Sarri has shown a desire to be unorthodox and break the mould.
His family were labourers — his father a construction worker — but he became an international banker.
For 20 years he mixed working for Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which saw him based in several different countries, with working for lower-league and non-league clubs.
His command of English will serve him well with communicating with the players from the start, unlike Conte who could not speak English when he arrived.
However, despite his high-flying banking career he has not forgotten his roots — a grandfather fought for the partisans in World War II against the Germans — and he is enraged when he hears some of the hyperbole attached to football.
“When I go to lead a training session I never say to my family: ‘I’m going to work,’” he told the newspaper Avvenire.
“I come from a family of labourers, and if I hear someone talking about ‘sacrifices’ in football, I get mad.”
– ‘There’s a child in every footballer’ –
Indeed Sarri — who is clearly not from the Bill Shankly school of saying football is much more serious than life and death — is on record as saying he would do the job for free.
“A tough life is getting up at six every morning and going to work in a factory assembly line, not this one,” he said.
“Coaching is the only job I would contemplate doing for free.”
Sarri, though, appears to be a more flexible character than Conte, the latter having driven some of the senior players to distraction with his intense training sessions and also his lack of personal warmth.
“I’ve come to realise that there’s a child in every footballer, a child who is playing a game,” he was quoted as saying in The Times.
“That’s where the fun part is. And when players are having fun, they are more productive. Tactical rigour is important but we must never lose sight of the game and making sure the child inside is enjoying himself.”
That is not to say Sarri is a gentle soul who keeps his emotions under control, for there have been several provocative incidents — not least an abusive rant at a female football journalist and raising his middle finger at Juventus fans last season.
The now-Italy coach Roberto Mancini accused Sarri of homophobia when he allegedly called him a “faggott” during an Italian Cup semi-final in 2016 when he was the Inter Milan boss.
That sort of language will land him in hot water with the authorities but another more immediate quandary awaits him — how does he get past the strict no-smoking policies in English grounds.
There is some debate about quite how many he smokes per day — some say 60 while Napoli’s Belgian forward Dries Mertens opined he thought it more like five packets per day.
Sarri must hope clubs are as accommodating as German side RB Leipzig, who erected a special smoking section in the Napoli dressing room last season for a Europa League match.
But whether they prove accommodating on the pitch will decide whether his hopes burn bright or go up in a puff of smoke.