As Maurizio Sarri took the heat to his players in full Mourinho style in his press conference after defeat to Arsenal, Jorginho must have been somewhere on FaceTime with Allan and Marek Hamšík.
“It’s not working at the moment”, he’d say under bated breath. “I mean, I’m doing my part. But the rest of the team?”
He shakes his head.
If only his former Napoli teammates could find a way to Stamford Bridge and help him out. Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejón would be worthwhile additions, too. But that’s the thing about football – you don’t always get what you want, and so as Sarri continues to work on bringing Sarri-ball to life, it can’t be underestimated how difficult it is going to be to shift the mentality at Chelsea, and indeed the Premier League.
Chelsea’s identity has been built on being difficult to beat and under managers such as José Mourinho and Antonio Conte, it’s never been about pedal to the metal, suffocating possession-based play. For a start, Willian is no Insigne, and Pedro is no Callejón. Hamšík and Allan make Matteo Kovačić and N’Golo Kanté look like square pegs in round holes.
Oh, Maurizio. What are you doing? Kanté as a right-sided central midfielder? Eden Hazard upfront? Marcos Alonso at left back?
And let’s not forget his trusty sidekick, Jorginho, playing in the centre of the three midfielders where… He ought to be? The confusion, like other systems that have landed on English shores, is understandable: Jorginho’s role as the ‘regista’ may be something unfamiliar, almost alien, to the Premier League eye.
This is why, for example, there have been calls to have Kanté play where Jorginho is. The Premier League seems to be fixated on the notion that certain positions must play out as it sees fit. Jorginho looks like a lost sheep in the headlights, but the point of a regista is to do the work that goes unnoticed.
By definition, a regista is Italian for a director. On the pitch, it plays out as the orchestrator of a team’s attacks from deep. Think of Xabi Alonso at Bayern Munich, or İlkay Gündoğan when he was at Borussia Dortmund. Registas are known for their short, intricate passes and dictating the tempo of a game.
This, however, needs to be accompanied by players around them who can appreciate what they do, take the ball forward and do something with it. Without the supporting cast, the director’s motion picture becomes a stale, cumbersome 90-minute mess, never to be screened in cinemas again.
Striking the balance made Napoli so exhilarating to watch under Sarri’s wing, especially in the last two seasons. Last season’s humdinger of a title race in Serie A could not have been possible without him, and seeing that he’s been in charge of Chelsea for roughly six months, we can’t rule out that he can do it again.
Odd, isn’t it? It feels like we’ve been here before with new managers entering the Premier League’s almost skeptical stratosphere. Each foreign idea seems to go through the same phase of constant review and skepticism.
There have been managers in his position before. Mourinho’s arrival in 2004 brought about the creation of the Makélélé role, a dogged defensive midfielder with ‘No Nonsense’ tattooed on his chest. Chelsea went on to win back-to-back titles.
Then there was Pep Guardiola, the man who doesn’t coach tackling, amidst snickering from those that knew the Premier League in and out, as if to fluster the Spaniard into returning to Germany for one more crack at the Champions League.
It didn’t work – Manchester City went on to accumulate 100 points in Guardiola’s second season – and teams still tremble at the prospect of playing his team as they struggle to cope with inverted full-backs and wingers that couldn’t be any more wider on the pitch.
This is why, in full view of the Premier League’s pessimistic glare, Sarri must play as he means to go on. Nothing, that has ever been made to feel worth it, took a day or two to build. For this to work, Sarri must be seen to be in charge, and a fair chance at implementing his style should be given to him by the board and the players.
Without that, then what would have been the point of appointing him in the first place? Chelsea knew who they were dealing with, and his best body of work has thrilled Napoli fans, and neutral spectators alike, more than anything else that Italian football had recently experienced.
It should also be telling that in three managers – Mourinho, Conte and Sarri – the similar “players’ mentality” card has been played. Three managers can’t all be wrong, can they?
It’s time for these players to roll up their socks and go back to the drawing board. That includes Jorginho – with 2,077 passes in the league so far – as the regista, and Sarri as the man calling the shots from the sidelines.
Napoli can’t come to him, but his ideas could bear fruit, even if the Premier League may doubt its hopeful success.