It was a “fundamental mistake” and “an enormous error” for Ex-Chelsea boss, Maurizio Sarri, to leave Chelsea, he has openly acknowledged.

The 65-year-old managed Chelsea to a 2019 Europa League final triumph against Arsenal during his one season at the helm. His team had a similar run that year in the Carabao Cup. However, they lost to Manchester City in a penalty shootout at Wembley. Sarri left Chelsea that summer to rejoin Juventus in Serie A; although he now wishes he had stayed in the Premier League.

“[Leaving was] a fundamental mistake in my career”, he told Sky Italia when questioned about his tenure at Chelsea. “We had everything required to remain. It’s a difficult club to work at where you probably don’t get to finish the second season, as practically nobody did in the Roman Abramovich era.

“At least I would’ve remained in the general Premier League situation. We had a good journey there, as the previous season the team finished fifth, then we were third behind Liverpool and Manchester City, who were above all the rest.

“We won the Europa League with 13 victories and lost the Carabao Cup final on penalties to Manchester City, after eliminating Liverpool and Tottenham, who that year had reached the Champions League final. I made an enormous error that I should’ve avoided. The desire to return to Italy should’ve been inferior to the desire to stay in the Premier League, but that was not the case.”

How “Sarri-ball” helped Chelsea

The Italian manager known for his tactical acumen and distinctive playing style, took the helm at Stamford Bridge in summer 2018. His arrival was met with mixed reactions; given his reputation for implementing a highly specific style of play, often referred to as “Sarri-ball.”

Over his single season with the club, Sarri’s short spell had notable highs, including a major European trophy. However, he also faced significant challenges, marked by internal strife and questions about his philosophy’s adaptability to the Premier League.

Sarri won his first trophy as a professional coach with Chelsea in the 2018/19 Europa League
Sarri won his first trophy as a professional coach with Chelsea in the 2018/19 Europa League

Sarri won his first trophy as a professional coach with Chelsea in the 2018/19 Europa League

Sarri’s appointment was seen as a move towards a more aesthetically pleasing style of soccer. However, this shift promised both excitement and uncertainty, as he had not tested his methods outside Italy. “Sarri-ball” is characterized by quick, short passes, high pressing, and a focus on maintaining possession. At its best, it creates a dynamic and entertaining brand of soccer.

Mixed legacy amid criticism

However, its implementation requires players to adapt to highly specific positional play and intense physical demands. Early in the season, it was clear that the experienced boss faced the challenge of instilling his philosophy in a squad not entirely suited to it.

The adaptation period saw mixed results, with moments of brilliance interspersed with frustrating performances.

Key to Sarri’s system was the midfield pivot, a role he assigned to Jorginho, his trusted lieutenant from Napoli. This move, however, displaced N’Golo Kante from his preferred defensive midfield position, leading to criticism from fans and pundits alike.

The crowning achievement of his tenure at West London was undoubtedly winning the UEFA Europa League. The Blues navigated through the competition with relative ease. This run showcased the tactical prowess and resilience that Sarri had instilled in the squad.

Sarri’s legacy at Chelsea is complex. On one hand, he delivered a major European trophy and ensured the club’s return to the Champions League.

On the other hand, his single-minded approach and the internal discord it bred left a somewhat divisive imprint on the club’s history. His tenure underscored the difficulties of implementing a distinct footballing philosophy in a league as competitive and physically demanding as the Premier League.

Photo credits: IMAGO / Lackovic : IMAGO / Newspix