A man so often dismissed by his critics as a stubborn loser is now a winner, after Wednesday’s 4-1 rout of Arsenal in Baku
They said Maurizio Sarri was mad for persisting with his style of play as the critics rounded on the 60-year-old chain smoker during a trying first season at Stamford Bridge.
But the Chelsea boss enjoyed the last laugh in Baku on Wednesday night, as the much-maligned ‘Sarriball’ came up trumps when it mattered most, with the Blues claiming the Europa League with a comprehensive 4-1 victory over a humiliated Arsenal.
If Sarri were Jose Mourinho, he would doubtless bite back at all of his doubters after winning his first major trophy as a coach – and with his employer, Roman Abramovich, watching on at the Olympic Stadium.
However, Sarri’s possible future employer was also in the crowd, with Juventus president Andrea Agnelli having met with his Chelsea counterpart Bruce Buck in Baku earlier in the day.
Sarri may still be unpopular with many fans due to his stubbornness but the football world will now rightly regard this former banker as a true winner, given he has managed to win a trophy – and secure a third-placed finish in the Premier League – for one of the toughest clubs to manage in world football.
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For any team to beat Arsenal 4-1 is quite a feat, but to do so as London rivals in a Europa League final is even better. Chelsea’s recent history of glory was maintained by a man who has been booed by his own fans this season and ridiculed by many pundits.
They triumphed in style, too, scoring 36 goals – more than any other team in the tournament. What’s more, Chelsea now have as many major European trophies as Manchester United with five.
Could there be even more to come under Sarri? He has always maintained that the best is yet to come and repeatedly asked for patience. Surely he deserves some respite from the fans after this?
But Sarri may already feel he has had enough and Juventus are willing to pay £5 million to buy out the contract of the Blues boss. The final piece in the puzzle for them is getting him to agree to move to Turin, with talks set to begin on Thursday.
Of course, it may not just be Sarri bowing out at Stamford Bridge either, as Eden Hazard’s pivotal display may give a bittersweet tinge to the night, as he is expected to join Real Madrid this summer in a deal worth just over £100m.
“I think it’s a goodbye but in football you never know,” the Belgian told BT Sport immediately after the full-time whistle. “My dream was to play in the Premier League. I played here for seven years for one of the biggest clubs in the world and maybe it’s time for a new challenge.”
He will be missed. While Olivier Giroud opened the scoring with a brave, stooping header to make it 11 goals in this season’s Europa League, earning him the golden boot in the process, Hazard was involved in the three goals that followed, netting two himself after setting up one for Pedro.
Sarri also deserves credit for getting the best out of Hazard, who surpassed the 20-goal mark for the first time in his Chelsea career.
N’Golo Kante was also handled to perfection. A major doubt before kick-off, Sarri rolled the dice at the right time in a move that might have been decisive. Many in the Blues squad doubted that Frenchman could return but he passed a late fitness test to play and add yet another trophy to his collection.
Now, though, all eyes will be on Sarri. Will he stay or will he go? He has earned the right to choose. The man many treated as a loser is now a winner.
And, even more importantly, the “dreamer”, as he calls himself, did it his own way.