18 quotes to explain Maurizio Sarri’s philosophy: ‘His football is a joy’
Maurizio Sarri has replaced Antonio Conte as Chelsea manager ahead of the 2018-19 season – and he arrives in England with a number of big admirers.
Sarri, who has only managed in the Italian top flight since gaining promotion with Empoli in 2014, counts the likes of Pep Guardiola and Arrigo Sacchi among his supporters thanks to his brand of ‘Sarri-ball’ implemented in three hugely successful years at Napoli.
His style of play, described as ‘vertical tiki-taka’, sees a focus on short, quick passes to draw the opposition out and stretch the defensive lines up the pitch rather than across it.
We’ve taken a look at some of the quotes to best describe this unique style and philosophy, which some see as the next big innovation in the modern game.
One of Sarri’s most notable admirers is legendary AC Milan manager Sacchi, who is regular in his praise working as a journalist in Italy, and has followed his progress since his first significant job at Empoli.
“When you see Sarri’s teams play, you know how they train,” Sacchi said.
“He is a genius. When I was technical director with the Italy youth teams, I always went to watch kids in Serie B, and I was already impressed by his Empoli. He looks after the players, they understand him.”
Progressing through the ranks at Empoli, Rugani was promoted to the first-team under Sarri, playing a key role in their promotion year aged just 20 after Juventus has signed him in a co-ownership deal.
“Sarri has been fundamental in my growth,” said the centre-back, now a regular at Juventus and in the Italian national team.
“A very good tactical trainer, he gave me important bases that will stay with me forever.
“He is charismatic, he knows how to charge you and send you to the field with the right determination, but when it comes to helping and reassuring a boy he is able to do it.”
Chelsea are set to make an official offer for Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain: new meeting expected this week, the offer will be 60m€ (approximately). And Daniele Rugani is set to following Maurizio Sarri from Juve to Stamford Bridge. #ChelSarri 👌
— Matteo Pedrosi (@MatteoPedrosi) July 15, 2018
The legendary Rubin Kazan manager – currently back with the club for his second spell – learned under the likes of Marcello Lippi and Carlo Ancelotti but says Sarri impressed him the most.
“His power is in his organisation,” Berdyev recalled. “The man never played football, but his head is so intellectual.”
“He has a keen analytic mind that can systematize everything and organize the game. When Sarri was at Empoli, Spalletti, who was out of work then, called him and said, ‘Call me when you hold tactical training, I’ll come.’
“These pieces of training are really interesting, with attention to every detail, I enjoyed them every match.
“I rate him higher than Guardiola. His strength is in details, there is no small detail that is beneath his attention. Guardiola also pays attention to everything, but Sarri digs even deeper. He teaches the players to think.”
As Dortmund looked to ship Immobile out in 2015, a return to Italy looked favourable, and after Sarri’s appointment at Napoli, the striker favoured a move to join him at his new club.
“Apart from Juventus, the team that played the best in Serie A last season were Empoli,” Immobile said after Sarri led a team tipped for relegation to 15th place in Italy’s top flight.
“He had them playing the beautiful game, a team moving even when stationary at set-pieces. He’s a well-prepared coach and Napoli have made the right choice taking him.”
One theme that Sarri often comes back to when talking about his own philosophy and beliefs in football is fun. He is keen for the players to enjoy themselves on the pitch and the supporters off it as a result.
“My football is both application and fun,” he said. “And if you are having fun, it is less tiring.
“I’ve come to realise that there’s a child in every footballer, a child who is playing a game. 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.”
— Serie A News (@TransfersCalcio) August 1, 2017
One of Sarri’s first tasks when arriving at Napoli was to deal with Higuain, who he apparently put on a strict training regime in order to make him fitter and lose weight.
As a result, the striker went on to have the most prolific season of his career, netting 38 goals in 42 appearances and earning a mildly controversial move to Juventus, drawing suggestions of a rift between he and Sarri, which both have since rubbished.
“He has helped me so much early on,” the Argentina international said. “He made me feel like a player who is indispensable.
“At times for a player, dialogue can be the most important thing. He’s a bit like a father for me.”
A big challenge for Sarri after Higuain’s departure was to replace the incredible number of goals he took with him. No-one saw what was coming next, as he converted diminutive winger Mertens into a centre forward.
In two seasons, Mertens has scored 56 goals for the club, and he puts it all down to his manager.
“Sarri taught me football,” he said. “We’re led by a commandant who has changed everyone’s life.
“Sarri has transferred to us his way of understanding football, a philosophy which distinguishes us from the others and which allows us to express our game in the best way.
“The thing I love the most about his style of football is the way he organises the phases when we are off the ball and structures the pressure we put on opponents when they’ve got the ball at their feet.
“It feels like he has already played the game out in his head and on the field you have an extra man.”
Consistent high finishes and fine performances caught the attention of Guardiola, who revealed he enjoys watching Napoli games on TV.
“For somebody like me, who loves watching games at home on the sofa, Napoli are spectacular and his brand of football is a joy to watch,” the Manchester City manager said.
“Often a coach is judged on wins, but you’ve also got to look at the shape as well as the substance – Sarri had Empoli and Napoli playing great football, and he did a fantastic job.”
— R🇸🇪 (@JorginhoIogy) July 14, 2018
Another great Italian manager followed Sacchi in his praise of Napoli boss Sarri, with Capello having his say in June 2017.
“Every 20 years there is an innovation in football,” the former England manager said.
“After Ajax there was Sacchi’s Milan, then Guardiola, who rather sent football to sleep. Fortunately now we’ve got Sarri, who can wake football up again.”
Sarri changed his system when Higuain left the club, and it is often a great source of debate whether he operates a 3-4 or a 4-3 defence-to-midfield formation. But he’s not one to distinguish.
“One of my coaches used to tell me that people who speak about formations don’t know anything about football,” he said.
“We already play with Marek [Hamšík] between the lines, then with the forwards between the lines. Maybe you can also change too much, causing you to lose the certainties of the team.”
Napoli using deep possession to stretch opposition vertically and create gaps in defensive block. More effective than traditional methods. pic.twitter.com/ZCLJnHg2k1
— Nicó Morales (@Nico_OMorales) May 12, 2017
The centre-back has been one of Sarri’s stand-out improved players, leading to effusive praise during Senegal’s World Cup campaign, but he is just another success story of Sarri-ball.
“He really is a genius,” Koulibaly said. “He sees things others don’t see.
“Sarri makes you understand how football is and isn’t unpredictable. He’s a scholar. Any question you ask him, he always has an answer, and it’s always right.
“He helps you to think as a team and not an individual. In short, with Sarri football is maths.”
Italian journalist Marcotti has spent a long time studying Sarri’s methods, watching training sessions which appear very meticulous.
“Many of his training sessions are based on endless repetition, so that players get the co-ordination and timing essential to his game,” he wrote.
“Sarri tends to do this at a high pace, to ensure his sessions do not run for hours and to stop players getting bored.
“That emphasis on chemistry and repetition allows his players to pass the ball confidently into space, knowing a team-mate will be there or on his way.”
Prior to a huge game against Juventus late last season, Sarri laid his underlying philosophy out, plain and simple.
“Our team always tries to take the initiative and play our football, regardless of venue, opponent or situation. That is our philosophy,” he said.
They may have beaten Juve that day, but Sarri’s Napoli eventually fell just short of the Serie A title, recording 91 points – one of the highest the division has ever seen.
“He’s one of the absolute best,” said Guardiola. “We judge people on what they’ve won, but the football played by Napoli this season has been out of this world.
“He did very well. Seeing Napoli play is a spectacle.”
— Everything Napoli (@NaplesAndNapoli) September 18, 2017
Another journalist, the Irish Times’ Italian football correspondent, recalled how Sarri’s attacking brand stretched way before his Napoli days, while explaining his philosophy from an alternative viewpoint.
“He’s fond of quoting his grandad,” Agnew said. “His grandad liked to say to him ‘we’re here to play football, not to unload a lorry. So I don’t need big hefty fellas actually, I want guys who can play with the ball.’
“It’s not for nothing that he has these three little men up front in Callejon, Mertens, and Insigne who are three terrific footballers but guys who are knee-high to a grasshopper.
“He sticks with them, and he sticks with them because he believes in that type of football.”
Continuing his glowing praise, Sacchi delved into the deeper roots of Sarri’s footballing ideologies.
“He tries to interpret football in a positive manner,” he explained. “To be a protagonist and not to follow others.
“This lifts the value of the players and their self-confidence, and also the game. It produces spectacular football.”
Of course, the positive-as-ever City boss was enthused to see Sarri’s appointment confirmed, and says he can’t wait for the challenge that will come with facing him.
“I have no doubts that Sarri is one of the best managers out there,” Guardiola gushed. “He achieved something incredible with Napoli.
“His style of football is as good as a drink in the sun.”
And who else could we let have the last word? This beautiful little nugget comes from Sarri’s first interview on Chelsea’s official channels.
“First of all, I love the game,” he responded when asked about his style and approach. “I love football and the rest is a consequence.”