The current situation that Maurizio Sarri finds himself in at Chelsea is once again a reminder of how the footballing landscape has changed from long-term planning and plenty of perseverance to rampant short-termism and the aim to find as many quick-fix solutions as possible
Remember when Sarri’s unbelievable, and wholly unexpected, start to life in west London — where Chelsea were unbeaten after their first 12 top-flight matches under him and also went without defeat till November — left the clubs fans giddy and licking their lips at the prospect of fighting for trophies on all four fronts come March? And understandably so, for the Blues had claimed some impressive results, not least wins over Premier League frontrunners Liverpool and Manchester City, and looked like they had taken to their new manager’s system — a notoriously hard and difficult one to get used to — like a duck to water!
How the welcoming of the new year has become the bane for Chelsea and its beleaguered manager! Simmering tensions between players and the new gaffer, along with a run of stinking away form, have seen former league champions fade out of title contention and face a battle to finish in the top four. From being comfortably placed at fourth in the table and looking on the up seven weeks back, the club has fallen down to sixth in the table, with the latest setback being the humiliating 6-0 league thrashing at the hands of Pep Guardiola’s marauders at the Etihad, the Blues’ worst defeat since a 7-0 loss to Nottingham Forest in April 1991 and their fourth straight away loss in all competitions!
And as expected, what with club owner Roman Abramovich’s penchant for being all too willing to keep the manager’s revolving door, well, revolving, reports later suggested that Sarri’s job could be in danger after such a dire run of results. Which brings us to the main point of this article: does Sarri really deserve to be sacked so soon into his tenure in London, results notwithstanding?
Granted, he has publicly told off his players, which is never a good thing in today’s landscape where players wield most of the power, and even taken digs at his boss, going as far as to say that he feels he is ‘always at risk’ of being sacked by Chelsea, but does he not deserve time and patience to implement his system, when the club and it’s head honchos clearly knew what he brought to the table, and the demands his system brought to every club and player? It was expected in every quarter that Chelsea would take time to get back to the top of the English football pyramid, and that Sarri was the right man to lead them to that perch, granted Abramovich kept his trigger-happy fingers firmly dug into his pockets. But here we are halfway into the season, with Chelsea’s lead director Marina Granovskai required to pour cold water over any such claims of sacking the Italian so soon!
Delve deeper, and one realises that this is the new way forward in modern football, where gains over the short-term are given more importance than long-term planning and sustainable development of a club and its operations. Imagine if Sir Alex Ferguson was appointed in today’s atmosphere, do you think he would have gotten those four years from Manchester United to stamp his authority on a fallen club despite bad results and no trophies during that time? Do you think that arguably the greatest managerial reign in modern football would have played out in front our eyes if it was happening today? He would probably have been given the boot within two years of his tenure.
Therein lies the problem with today’s football, that a few bad results come in the way of discernible progress and intangible aspects like player development and fostering of an atmosphere where all players are slowly but surely pulling towards one direction, which is always a good recipe for future success. Be it at an elite club or one at the bottom of the table, lack of trophies or the fear of relegation is bound to get the owners itchy and ready to pull the trigger on the sack of results do not go their way. The monetary gains of short-termism have taken a whole new importance for most clubs today, and as a result, clubs like Chelsea choose to make it harder to give managers like Sarri a chance to implement their ideas and imprint them on a talented squad.
Perhaps Jose Mourinho is the best example of this change, as his reputation of a manager who is all about results over the short-term is a topic at every pub conversation and expert panel discussion. And he may very well have made his name that way, but as seen by his acrimonious last few months at United, he also seems to have become a relic, consigned to archaic tactics and living in the past, hugging all his winners medals and not afraid to let anyone who questions his place among football’s elite know of the same.
His arch-nemesis Arsene Wenger, built one of the most fearsome winning machines seen in England, and dominated the land during his first decade in the country Even during his latter years, when it became clear that the Frenchman had stuck on past his sell-by date, he was afforded the respect and patience to try and steer a clearly sinking ship dry (read promised) land, though he failed to do so, thanks in large parts to his stubbornness and loss of touch with reality. Perhaps he is the last of that kind, with ‘the Professor’ allowed to fail in the pursuit of glory, although by the end it had become clear that he was no longer the man to entrust upon such an enormous task.
Near the bottom of the PL table, Slavisa Jokanovic, the former Fulham manager who assembled an exciting side that won hearts as it battled all comers in the Championship en route its journey back to the Premier League, was also asked to clear his desk after investing heavily in the summer before their latest challenge of fighting it out for not only survival but a place in the top ten of the PL table, only to fail miserably and leave the club rooted near the bottom of the table. Many felt that despite the bad results, the Serbian manager deserved more time to right the wrongs, for he had overseen a radical shift in personnel and playing style at Craven Cottage, and at least deserved better for taking them back to the top flight after its absence for a few years.
One wonders if such impatience and the need to prioritise immediate monetary gains is contributing to the radical commercialisation of football and the very change to its essence and soul? Fans around the globe see the sport as a distraction, often immersing themselves completely into the fortunes of their clubs, and letting them down would be a travesty, for it is these passionate fans that help football resonate with the more casual observers and make it such a spectacle to watch! The same could be said about the fans at Stamford Bridge, some of whom may have already turned on Sarri but a majority of whom know that he needs to be afforded more time and leeway to see the light of day. Playing styles and the inexorbitant transfer fees aside, the future of the sport itself could be reflected by the way Chelsea treat the their manager!