Conte, Sarri, Jorginho, Hazard: Dissecting Chelsea’s tumultuous weekend
Conte out and Sarri in. Jorginho in and Hazard edging closer to the door. Dan Levene on one of the most tumultuous weekends in the recent history of Chelsea...
It was notable, amid all of the noise surrounding Stamford Bridge this last long weekend, that all was quiet on Friday 13th.
It seemed somebody still had time to adhere to superstition, with only a three-sentence statement breaking up a day that required many more words.
The headlines are these: Chelsea replaced a manager long expected to leave, a man with whom all professional relations appeared to have broken down, with the coach behind some of Europe's most exciting football. And though, in the process, they signed a versatile and dynamic young midfielder, post-match comments from their prize playing asset in Russia will have caused concern.
But the deeper story is about a major change in approach, and one which could set the tone at Chelsea for time to come.
The summer departure of Antonio Conte will not have come as a surprise. The way it was done, on Thursday before Friday's abrupt and belated farewell statement, shocked even the most hardened watchers of what can often appear as a brutal Stamford Bridge regime: especially when it comes to dispatching those who have fallen out of favour.
No 'thanks' to the outgoing man; no 'parting on good terms'; and certainly no 'will be warmly welcomed back'. It had all the appearance of a statement by lawyers, with one eye on future proceedings.
These kiss off statements usually come with a little PR flair, the tone and content agreed between parties. This one pointed to a sacking that has long been a matter of negotiation between the parties and it showed there had been no shifting in positions.
Skip to Saturday, and in came Maurizio Sarri.
His football excites a lot of people, the stuff he has had Napoli playing is a joy to watch. But less exciting is his record at winning trophies - other than a league title in the sixth tier of Italian (amateur) football, of which Chelsea's website helpfully reminded us, that record is bare for two straight decades.
Maurizio SarriGetty Images
That represents a major change in direction for the club. Under the ownership of Roman Abramovich, Chelsea had never appointed a permanent head coach without a strong trophy-winning pedigree.
Is it still the case that managers are expected to hit the ground running and win things immediately?
On his appointment two seasons previously, the unspoken objectives for Conte had been clear: restore Champions League qualification in the first season, while wining a domestic trophy if you can. The fact that Conte massively outperformed those requirements should not change the way in which the same parameters are applied to Sarri.
So, in season one at least, it will probably not be a deal breaker if he fails to end that personal trophy drought.
Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea poses with the Premier League Trophy after the Premier League match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge on May 21, 2017 in London, EnglandGetty Images
The appointment will surely have been checked with senior players – long ahead of the announcement.
Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois had both made it clear they were waiting for news of signings (implicitly including managerial ones) before pledging their future to the club. So it was obvious Sarri was either a man both were happy with, or that the club was reconciled with losing at least one of their Belgians.
But there followed, from Hazard, words most supporters would not want to hear:
"After six wonderful years at Chelsea it may now be time to discover something different."
Any sale of Hazard will bring in plenty of cash, though not the world record fee many fans seem to be expecting.
The two years left on Hazard's contract make it worth, on a level playing field, markedly less than those previously attached to Neymar or Philippe Countinho. Market forces can push up prices beyond recognition, though they won't hike Hazard's tag north of £200m.
And so to the future.
Jorginho is a player of clear ability, whose main selling point is his versatility. Chelsea have increasingly looked to recruit players able to cover a number of bases and he is clearly one of those.
In both the players and coaching staff it recruits, the name of the game has been 'value' for some time - they are not even trying to compete with the spending of the Manchester clubs.
Recent managers have managed to bring short-term glory under such relative austerity. Now it is Sarri's turn to battle with that conundrum.
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