'F*ck Sarriball'?! Sorry, Chelsea fans, Maurizio Sarri is proving his genius all over again at Lazio

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Maurizio Sarri Lazio cigarette HIC 16:9
The Italian was essentially driven out of both Chelsea and Juventus by impatient owners and ignorant fans, but his class is permanent

As recent events have hammered home, very few people at Stamford Bridge know anything about football. Chelsea's owners are clearly clowns, while some of the supporters are actually celebrating the return of Frank Lampard as interim boss following the farcical sacking of Graham Potter – less than seven months after the even more ridiculous dismissal of Thomas Tuchel.

That Lampard failed miserably during his previous 18-month spell in charge appears utterly irrelevant. The fans remember Lampard the legendary player, not Lampard the calamitous coach.

This kind of short-termism and selective memory loss is hardly surprising, of course. The previous administration adopted a hire-and-fire policy that delivered trophies – but created a culture of constant chaos that was utterly incompatible with long-term planning or the implementation of a footballing philosophy.

Which is why Maurizio Sarri always felt like such a strange choice for Chelsea.

  1. 'A conceptual extremist'

    'A conceptual extremist'

    As Luca Gotti once told GOAL in an illuminating interview, his former boss is "a conceptual extremist and because of the elaborate nature of Maurizio's ideas, it's not always a smooth path. He needs time."

    He was never going to get any at Chelsea, whose fickle fans are as clueless as the club's owners.

    "F*ck Sarriball!" was the supporters' impatient and ignorant reaction to the Italian's attempts to introduce a style of play that could not only usher in a new era of success at Stamford Bridge – but sustain it.

    Sarri's methods were unsurprisingly met with similar resistance at Juventus, a club which perfectly embodies its motto: 'Winning is the only thing that counts.'

    Of course, Sarri won a Scudetto in Turin – the first of his career and the last the Bianconeri have claimed – while he also led Chelsea to third-placed finish in the Premier League, as well as Europa League glory.

    However, it was clear that he wasn't the right fit for either club.

    Gotti, though, knew right away that he could be the ideal man for Lazio, whom he took over in 2020.

    "It's a very interesting project for Maurizio," Gotti told GOAL. "It's a club that has shown in the past it is willing to let the coach work with continuity and without interruption."

    For all of Lazio's flaws, they have done exactly that with Sarri, and they're now reaping the rewards.

  2. Success on a shoestring budget

    Success on a shoestring budget

    As Lampard prepares to take charge of an expensively-assembled Chelsea team sitting 11th in the Premier League table on Saturday, Sarri is preparing second-placed Lazio for a colossal clash with Juve at the Stadio Olimpico.

    The resurgent Bianconeri have won eight of their last nine Serie A games and now have a legitimate chance of forcing their way back into the top four – despite being hit with a 15-point penalty deduction earlier in the season.

    Juve's remarkable run of form has been founded on excellent defending, which is hardly surprising. What is surprising, though, is that it is Sarri's Lazio who boast the best defence in Serie A.

    The Biancocelesti have picked up 16 points from their past six games without conceding a single goal, and a seventh successive clean sheet this weekend would represent a new club record.

    What makes Sarri's work even more impressive is that it's been achieved on a shoestring budget, with Lazio having a net spend of roughly €5 million (£4m/$6m) since replacing Simone Inzaghi as coach in the summer of 2021.

    It's hardly been plain sailing since then. It never is with Sarri.

  3. 'A complex journey'

    'A complex journey'

    As he admitted himself, his first six months at the Olimpico was "a complex journey, full of difficulties. Some steps forwards, some setbacks."

    That was inevitable, of course, as Sarri oversaw a transition from his predecessor's 3-5-1-1 formation to his preferred 4-3-3.

    Because of their shallow squad, Lazio also struggled with the burden of playing midweek football. "We have an average of 2.1 points per game without the Europa League," Sarri pointed out during his first year in Rome, "and 0.60 with the Europa League."

    There were similar issues this season, which led to his players "subconsciously" switching off in continental competition, resulting in a surprise last-16 Europa Conference League elimination at the hands of AZ Alkmaar.

    However, Lazio undeniably benefited from their European exit and, with 10 rounds of the season remaining, are perfectly placed to secure a return to the Champions League.

    Indeed, nearly all of the sides around them, including Juve, will still be playing midweek football for at least the next couple of weeks. And that should play perfectly into Sarri's hands.

  4. The tracksuit trainer
    Getty Images

    The tracksuit trainer

    We're talking about a coach's coach here. Sarri has long been considered ahead of his time, but he is very much of the old-school.

    He's a tracksuit trainer. He specialises in complex tactics, yet can't get his head around the idea of a coach turning up for a game in a suit. This is a man who prefers being on the training pitch than in the dugout, viewing midweek games as an inconvenience, and a hindrance to beautiful football.

    “I am accustomed to a packed fixture list, but I don’t like it," he recently admitted. "Because that takes away the greatest joy I have in this sport, which is being on the training ground during the week."

    Sarri has admitted that this Lazio side is not on the same level of the Empoli team with which he made his name, or the Napoli outfit that made the rest of Europe sit up and take notice.

    But securing a top-four finish with the Biancocelesti would represent an even bigger achievement than the trophies won in Turin and west London.

    At the very least, it would represent a fittingly emphatic riposte who those who used to chant 'F*ck Sarriball!' at Stamford Bridge.

    As Gotti told GOAL, "Maurizio's ideas are radical but they're his, and his alone. Over 30 years of experience working in the game, he created, step by step, his own structure of football.

    "He perfected every detail, and for this reason, Sarri's football is truly beautiful."