– Why Gianfranco Zola is the right man to rescue Chelsea fans from the Sarriball saga
Maurizio Sarri appears to be running out of time at Chelsea, but the answer is right under the club’s nose before Sunday’s League Cup final against Manchester City, writes Pete Sharland.
‘F*** Sarriball’ Why muddled Maurizio is a dead manager walking as Chelsea fans vent fury
The Warm-Up: Is Maurizio getting sacked in the morning?
As a general rule, Stamford Bridge is not one of the loudest stadiums English football has to offer.
Of course during certain European matches, or indeed just generally under the lights, it can be a fantastic place to watch football. Yet more often than not it is pretty mundane, perhaps reflective of certain areas of the Chelsea fanbase that has developed since Roman Abramovich turned the club into a global superpower.
Yet when it turns against you, it can be absolutely toxic. Just ask World Cup winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, Jose Mourinho mini-me Andre Villas-Boas or even the Portuguese icon himself. The Bridge doesn’t flip on their heroes often, but when they do it isn’t pretty.
Maurizio Sarri experienced that first hand on Monday evening as Chelsea supporters launched into various unflattering chants including “F*** Sarri-ball,” “You don’t know what you’re doing!” and “You’re getting sacked in the morning!” The only things that can bring Chelsea and Manchester United fans together in such unison are stopping a potential Liverpool title charge or the aforementioned Mourinho..
Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri gestures during the FA Cup Fifth Round match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on February 18, 2019 in London, United Kingdom.
Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri gestures during the FA Cup Fifth Round match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on February 18, 2019 in London, United Kingdom.Eurosport
Back in December, this writer suggested that Chelsea needed to show patience with Sarri after a 2-1 loss against Wolves that came after a catastrophic capitulation at Wembley against Tottenham Hotspur a couple of weeks earlier.
The Blues then proceeded to take out champions Manchester City at Stamford Bridge, a potential catalyst even if Pep Guardiola was deprived of the services of Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne.
At that stage Chelsea were fourth, just two points behind Tottenham in third and a further seven back of City, whose loss at the Bridge was their first of the season in the league.
It felt like a potential turning point; Sarri and his squad clearly had their issues but perhaps together they could find common ground and put the foundations in for a successful relationship in London.
What has transpired has been an astonishing breakdown in communication that has led to Chelsea dropping to sixth, ten points behind Spurs and 15 adrift of City.
On one hand in this almighty mess you have the squad, too complacent and arrogant, convinced their partner needs to change rather than undertake some serious self-evaluation of their own flaws.
And on the other you have Sarri, too stubborn to consider compromise and worn down by the constant sniping from all angles.
Time can be a great healer but perhaps in this scenario it has merely exposed the fundamental issues that exist in South West London.
Now maybe Chelsea and Sarri might be best off cutting their losses before either party is further damaged.
It is a real shame to see the experiment end so early, but if any club has shown an ability to execute this sort of operation then it is Chelsea.
The key thing here is that this cannot go down as the latest horse in the Stamford Bridge managerial carousel.
No. This has to be Chelsea’s line in the sand, this is where they have to step back and assess just what it is they are doing and where they are going.
To that end, Chelsea could do worse than take a leaf out of the book of their conquerors on Monday night by buying some time and appointing Gianfranco Zola on an interim basis until the end of the season.
Zola never had the pure leadership of John Terry, the goals of Frank Lampard or the big-game ability of Didier Drogba, Yet you will struggle to find a former Blue as beloved as the little Italian.
He will have the tarnish of being associated with the Sarri regime but his natural attacking instincts, and seeming preference to release the shackles on players would appear to be the perfect tonic for the current malaise affecting the squad.
Of course it is a gamble, Zola’s management record outside of Chelsea is even less inspiring that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s before his Old Trafford revolution.
Yet there are parallels between the two situations. From the squads littered with relative mediocrity dragged up by a few world-class performers to the toxic atmosphere surrounding the clubs signalling a change is needed.
Zola could help alleviate a lot of that tension, it fits with his natural demeanour and right now it seems that anything would be better for these Chelsea players than persevering with the status quo.
This season can be Chelsea need to act sooner rather than later. Try and take advantage of a potential new manager bounce by giving Zola his first game in charge at home to Malmo in the Europa League last 32 on Thursday.
A rejuvenated Stamford Bridge in a tie that Chelsea are in control of could be exactly what the doctor ordered and that would set Zola and the club up perfectly for Sunday’s League Cup final against City.
And if Zola is brought on why couldn’t he look at another former player as his assistant similar to Michael Carrick at United? John Terry is one option at Aston Villa whilst the likes of Joe Cole, Tore Andre Flo and Carlo Cudicini are already employed at the club. Heck you could even bring a more experienced hand back a la Mike Phelan, say perhaps Guus Hiddink?
There are longer term options for Chelsea if they are serious about a total overhaul of the club’s structure, using their legends and incredible academy, but those are discussions for another day. For now, Chelsea have to address this season.
They are locked in a battle with United and Arsenal for fourth place and they can’t give up on that yet, they are in one final and have the squad to reach another in Europa by revisiting Rafael Benitez’s Europa League class of 2013.
It isn’t too late to save this season but sadly it looks increasingly like that any rescue mission cannot be undertaken by Maurizio Sarri. Or his ball.