Milan (AFP) – Maurizio Sarri has defied his sceptics by winning the first league title of his 30-year coaching career as Juventus extended their record run of Serie A title wins to nine in a row.
A 2-0 win at home against Sampdoria on Sunday sealed a 36th Scudetto for the Italian giants with two games to spare.
Although Sarri’s first season in Turin will be judged on the Champions League — Juventus trail Lyon 1-0 in a still-to-completed last-16 tie — it was an emotional achievement for the 61-year-old who led Chelsea to the Europa League trophy last season.
When Sarri swapped London for northern Italy to replace Massimiliano Allegri in June 2019, he declared: “I arrive with scepticism.”
He added: “I know only one way to change — that is to win and convince while entertaining and getting results.”
But “Sarrism” or “Sarriball”, that fast-paced, eye-catching style of football with which he made his name at Napoli, and which Juventus bosses craved in Turin, was only seen in flashes this season.
Juventus were rarely brilliant and often disappointing, losing in two finals, the Italian Cup and the Italian Super Cup.
Although Sarri gave the team orders, he adapted to Juve and five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 31 goals as he targets the title of Serie A top scorer.
“I have to adapt to the characteristics of the players, you can’t ask for 25 purchases. Otherwise I might as well just train myself,” said Sarri.
“There is no doubt that it was Juve who changed Sarri and not the other way around,” said former Juventus and England coach Fabio Capello.
“Juve is not an easy car to drive, there are players with great personalities and you have to prove that you have one too.
“He would have wanted players suited to his football and he did not find them.”
– ‘Strange season’ –
Juventus were just one point ahead of second-placed Lazio when football resumed on June 20 after the three-month coronavirus lockdown.
But despite just two wins in their last six games, Sarri’s side have reaped the benefits of their rivals’ shortfalls.
The chain-smoking coach conceded it had been a “strange season”, starting with the first weeks of the campaign which he missed due to a bout of pneumonia.
Captain Giorgio Chiellini was mostly absent with cruciate ligament damage, and there were long months of uncertainty as the virus ravaged Italy.
“During the lockdown you could not rest hearing the sound of the sirens,” said Sarri.
But despite the exceptional season it was once again Juventus who prevailed to give the ‘Old Lady’ as many titles as their nearest rivals Inter Milan and AC Milan combined.
It has been a long road to the Scudetto for Sarri whose first coaching job was at Stia, a team in the Italian eighth division back in 1990.
His family were labourers — his father was a construction worker — but he became an international banker.
For many years he mixed working for Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which involved him being based in several different countries, with working for lower-league and non-league clubs.
“I stopped doing another job because I was bored,” said Sarri.
“I have achieved more than was my initial intention, which was to live something that I was passionate about.”
– Champions League dream –
“I get annoyed when they say, ‘In Italy, he has won nothing’,” said the coach from Napoli.
“I earned eight promotions from one division to another, and I achieved them all on the pitch.
“Maybe that’s small compared to the Champions League and the Scudetto, but it’s not easy.”
During three seasons with Napoli he turned them into title contenders but they finished second twice and third once behind Juventus, before he left for England in 2018.
Chelsea was the only time Sarri has coached outside of Italy but although he won the 2019 Europa League he failed to win over the club’s fans during his single season in charge.
And even now, despite finally bagging his first title in Italy, his season at Juventus will be judged next month, when his side must come from behind to beat Lyon to reach the Final Eight of the Champions League in Lisbon. If they make it to Portugal, they have the unenviable task of facing either Manchester City or Real Madrid in the quarter-finals.
“After an extremely strange championship I expect that the final phase of the Champions League will also be extremely strange too,” predicted Sarri.
Juventus fans will expect nothing less than a third European crown, having finished runners-up no fewer than five times since last winning in 1996.
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