Sarri to Juventus: How will chain-smoking Italian get on with fitness freak Ronaldo?
Chelsea have agreed to let Maurizio Sarri return to Italy to take over at Juventus, ending a stay of one year in London and meaning the chain-smoking eccentric will inherit a team including Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo.
Reports on Friday state that Chelsea have agreed in principle to allow the 60-year-old Italian to leave the club, with Juve said to be paying a compensation fee of around £5 million (US$6.3 million).
Sarri leaves Stamford Bridge after an eventful season during which Blues fans never really took to the Italian or his own-brand Sarriball style of play.
He did, however, guide the team to the UEFA Europa League title as well as a third-place finish in the Premier League – alongside the memorable scenes of his touchline meltdown when goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga refused to be substituted during the League Cup final against Manchester City in February.
That incident as well as a string of disastrous results in the league saw Sarri teeter on the edge of being sacked before the end of the season, before results picked up.
Ultimately, however, it was a loveless marriage at Chelsea that has ended with a mutually agreeable parting of ways that appears best for both sides.
But as Chelsea step up their search for a successor to the Italian – with club legend Frank Lampard reportedly the front-runner – there are also questions as to how Sarri will settle in at Juventus.
The former Empoli and Napoli boss inherits a team from Massimiliano Allegri who sealed an eighth straight Serie A title at a canter this season, and which contains the prodigious talents of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo.
But for a club so accustomed to domestic glory, the bar is set much higher and extends to the Champions League, where they bowed out at the quarterfinal stage against Ajax.
That led to a parting of ways with Allegri, and the primary task for Sarri – a former banker – will be to bring European glory back to Turin after an absence of 23 long years (and five losing finals during that time).
To achieve that, Ronaldo will be fundamental to Sarri and Juves plans.
The 34-year-old Potuguese arrived from Real Madrid to huge fanfare last summer in a deal worth in excess of $100 million, and was a statement signing to show Juve meant business in returning to the European elite.
Ronaldo hit 21 Serie A goals in his debut season, as well as that memorable Champions League hat-trick to rescue his team against Atletico Madrid in the last 16 second leg.
Allegri mostly managed his prize asset and his playing time well, given the inevitable demands that time has taken on a body even as well-maintained as that of Ronaldo.
Sarri will need to continue to get the best from Ronaldo on the pitch, coaxing goals and performances from him while ensuring the star forward remains a happy presence in the squad.
The Italians fabled style of play – known as Sarriball or Sarrisimo – is possession-based and fast-paced, and would seem to be conducive to getting the most from Ronaldo.
While Chelsea players failed to grasp it (or he failed to implement it, depending on how you look at it), Sarri deployed it to great effect during his time at Napoli.
His teams style of play was lauded as being the most attacking and eye-catching in Europe, particularly as Napoli ran Juventus close for the Scudetto in 2017-18.
Sarri typically likes a 4-3-3 formation, in a nutshell focusing attacking via overloads on the flanks to create and exploit space in the box.
That would seem ideal for a man like Ronaldo, who has evolved from a marauding winger to more of an in-the-box predator as he has got older.