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Assesing the short-lived Maurizio Sarri era at Juventus

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A requiem for a guy who was given a slim chance of success and did very little with it.

Federico Bernardeschi, Giorgio Chiellini and the coach... Photo by Andrea Staccioli/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Maurizio Sarri signing was doomed from the start.

Hindsight is 20/20 and it becomes very easy for me to crap on the signing and ensuing short lived era once it’s over and it’s especially easy after his firing became official. However, and from the get-go, this unlikely coupling had one major flaw that neither the coach nor the club ever managed to solve.

Sarri is the kind of coach that takes a long time to fully implement his playing system, a system that requires a very specific set of skills and players to develop properly. Juventus is a club that is built to win now, and has a roster that has very few, if any, players that could suitably do the functions that a Sarri-led squad needed.

That’s it. That was the issue. It was the issue from Day 1 and it was an issue that was never solved up until Juventus elimination from the Champions League last week.

This whole situation is interesting because there is no way you can put the whole blame on any one certain party. Any reasonable and decent debater could take one part of the equation and build their whole argument around it — as the BWRAO community has been doing for the entire weekend in the comment section — and here I’ll do it real quick.

Sarri is a good coach, with a revolutionary offensive system that allowed him to take lower powered clubs and mount significant challenges both domestically and in European competition. He was put in a thoroughly unfair position by asking him to win the Champions League with a club that has been unable to lift said trophy for over 20 years. And not only that, but the squad he was given was wholly unfit to run anything resembling his system, which left the coach as the metaphorical kid in the playground trying to fit a square peg in a round hole for an entire season. He was given a team with Cristiano Ronaldo, an all-time great, who is the living antithesis of what his platonic ideal for the position is. He was given an old and broken down midfield that was a weak link in the squad from Matchday 1. He had to somehow navigate all this without his captain and first-choice center back that got injured after the first game of the season, causing him to incorporate their 19-year-old star into the lineup immediately. Oh, right, he also had to do this while dealing with a freakin’ global pandemic stopping the season midway through just after his team had put forth their best performance of the year against Inter Milan. Despite all that, the club managed to win the league title and make it to the Coppa Italia final where they lost on PKs, a glorified form of deciding a winner via coin toss.

Sarri is the most unjustly maligned coach in the modern Juventus era and he got the short end of the stick.

Now, let’s do the opposite.

Sarri was a lifelong second place type of coach, and before arriving at Juventus his biggest accomplishment was winning the Europa League, decidedly the second place European competition. Every coach has a system, that is neither unique nor unprecedented, but good coaches manage to make their system work for their team and let me tell you something. If your system can only work when you have freakin’ Jorginho on the squad, well, that’s not much of a system at all is it?

Furthermore, this team was not a bad team by any means. While it had some flaws, you can easily make the argument that it’s the most talented team Sarri had coached up until this point. They gave a supposedly offensive coach Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala, two top end attackers that can go toe-to-toe with any attacking partnership in the world. They gave him Matthijs de Ligt and Adrien Rabiot and Miralem Pjanic and Alex Sando and Leo Bonucci (and I can go on), all top tier players that could easily play in any elite squad seamlessly. This was not a bad team, this was never a bad team, and anybody could have managed this side to a Serie A win. When you are Juventus’ manager that has to be the minimum and he barely accomplished it. The only consistent thing this team did was leak goals, outside of that you’d be hard pressed to point to what this team did well. If you played a tape of Juventus in mid-September 2019 and late July 2020 the only difference you could see where the kits and whatever hairstyle Ronaldo was rocking at that point in time.

Sarri was a bad coach for Juventus and his dismissal was just and necessary.

This relationship was an Apple computer running exclusively Microsoft software, an engineering student told to do a fashion designers work or myself being asked to build and assemble furniture without a drill but the thing having no pre-made holes to assemble the pieces, despite the fact that the freakin’ website said that the dumb nightstand specifically didn’t need a drill to be assembled.

(That is a complaint for another day, though.)

Two entities that on their own might be successful, but when asked to perform a task jointly they are doomed to fail.

If you want to rescue anything from the Sarri era is the fact that he might have saved Dybala’s Juventus career after he seemed destined to leave last summer. He also played a part in fully unleashing Juan Cuadrado’s potential at the fullback position, entrusting Rodrigo Bentancur to play the central midfielder spot and doing a decent job at guiding the development of de Ligt as the center back of the future.

Despite those choice bright spots, this year the Juventus board were taught a lesson that I myself learnt about in high school: there is no sense in continuing a doomed relationship for the sake of some sort of theoretical fairness. At the end of the day, and leaving aside who is most to blame for this chapter of Juve football, the best thing you can say about the Sarri era is that it was short lived.