Maurizio Sarri earlier today accomplished the greatest feat of his Italian coaching career by winning the Serie A title with Juventus, thereby also becoming the oldest man to do so after Nils Liedholm at AS Roma in the ‘80s.
Juve’s ninth consecutive title was delivered with a 2-0 home win over Sampdoria, though the three pretenders to the crown Inter Milan, Atalanta and Lazio all contrived to keep dropping points to make the Bianconeri’s task easier in the end.
Sarri’s remarkable career has seen him quite a bank job to pursue his dream of coaching football, and now that he is at the pinnacle, his excitement was visible.
“It has a special feeling, of course. It’s difficult to win, it becomes even more complicated to keep winning, as taking something for granted in sport is one of the biggest lies in the world.
“It was not a walk in the park. It was long, difficult, stressful, and this squad deserves a lot of credit for continuing to find the hunger and determination to keep going after eight wins in a row.
“I left the field because I was trying to avoid getting a bucket of water thrown over me, as it was obviously on its way, but I didn’t manage to get away.”
No club in Europe’s top five leagues has ever managed Juve’s feat of winning nine straight titles, and Sarri was quick to pass on the acclaim to some of his superstars.
“Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala make the difference on the field, so clearly they deserve a lot of credit, but the club behind them is every bit as important. We have a President and directors who attend training every day, are there to exchange ideas, see if you need anything and put petrol in the tank of this team. The club is a big part of why they were able to win for so many years. They back you even when you lose.
“In terms of organization, Juventus are at the top of European football. I could not have asked for anything more. Obviously, it takes a while to settle in, understand the approach, the way things work here, then after a while you can start trying to tweak a few things.
“You can’t just walk straight into a club that has won for eight years in a row and immediately try to order changes. That wouldn’t be very intelligent.”
Massimiliano Allegri had left last summer after the club leadership had tired of his playing style and wanted to see more attacking football. In terms of goals scored, this might have worked, but defensively Juve have been abysmal.
“There were tactical difficulties, trying to get all these very strong players and their various characteristics to work together. That was not something to be taken for granted, as we saw in previous years, because Dybala and Ronaldo didn’t really start together very often.
“They are world class, but it’s not easy to get them to work together with their characteristics. With a lot of work, I think we managed it.”
The 2019-20 season will go down in the history books for the COVID-19 enforced shutdown that resulted in the campaign being extended by three months and the remaining games crammed into a twice-a-week schedule.
“Before the lockdown, we seemed to find a certain solidity, that we then lost again after the restart. I saw in many teams during this period that they got stretched out or lost focus at times, so maybe it was a general issue we all had after such a long break.”
The veteran manager had at one point held open conversations with his squad to try smooth over communication issues about his vision.
“I think that happens more or less in any dressing room, doesn’t it? We all try to seek improvements and find ways that everyone can be happy, as this is a collaboration. The more openly we face issues, the easier we can resolve them.”
Sarri had rushed off the ground after the final whistle, claiming he was looking for a cigarette to smoke while avoiding getting doused.
“I told them, if you won with me who has never won anything, you must be really good!
“The first day you come in, you see people, not just world class players. As time passes, you get fond of them and the rapport goes from being strictly professional to personal too.
“The first day, I step into the locker room and know there are some top players. After a while, you walk in there knowing there are some great guys you can rely on too.”