I drew the short straw this year.
Giving a grade to Maurizio Sarri almost seems superfluous given the post-mortem analysis that has followed his firing a little over week ago, but we’re gonna give it a go.
Sergio summed up Sarri’s yearlong adventure at Juventus very well last week. He was always an awkward fit, but he seemed to check another box off on Andrea Agnelli’s plan to make Juventus into one of the European super teams. “Get Cristiano Ronaldo to increase the brand visibility” had been achieved. “Get a coach to play a more modern, proactive, attractive brand of soccer” seemed like the next logical step.
But the marriage between coach and club was doomed from the start. Sarri’s systems have always taken time to truly sink in, and time was a commodity that, with Ronaldo not getting any younger, was in short supply. Also in short supply were full-backs—there were only three on the roster this past year—and quality midfielders. There weren’t a ton of pieces that truly fit the coach’s pass-and-move system, and Sarri’s responsibility was to try to cobble together something that resembled his system out of a box of parts that simply didn’t go together.
The result was a stuttering, start-and-stop season that didn’t improve on Massimiliano Allegri’s final season. Sarri did his damndest to get the team to buy into his ideas, but the team never really showed more than flashes of Sarrismo. Perhaps most distressingly, the team conceded goals at a rate not seen by a championship team in half a century. You can expect more goals to be conceded in a system like Sarri’s than either of his predecessors, but it began to get excessive by the end of the year, and the team lost 18 points from winning positions over the course of the year, including fantastical collapses against AC Milan and Sassuolo after the restart.
There were a few positives. The resurgence of Paulo Dybala, who was named Serie A’s MVP this season, was a welcome sight, and Sarri definitively disproved the idea that Dybala and Ronaldo couldn’t play together. Matthijs de Ligt was forced into the lineup far earlier than anticipated after Giorgio Chiellini’s injury and struggled mightily his first two months or so, he ended up solidifying into the center back we all thought Juventus was signing last summer. It shouldn’t be overlooked that Sarri contributed to that rise with a subtle tweak, moving him to the right side of the center-back pairing after initially plugging him into Chiellini’s usual spot on the left.
But it was hard to see those brights spots through the slog that was this season. Sarri was heavily criticized by the fan base for not loosening up his system as the year went on, and while we did see an uncharacteristic glimmer of pragmatism in one or two games after the restart, he held on to trying to instill his system until the very end. Whether or not that drove a wedge between him and the team will come out in time, but I personally applaud his attempt to instill an identity in a team that hadn’t really had one in the waning days of Allegri’s tenure.
At the end of the day, Sarri wasn’t set up to succeed. He was right in February, before the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 against Lyon, when he said that the team under him would be a three-year project. It would’ve been interesting to see whether he could have truly succeeded if he had been given that time and the players necessary to make things really go, but obviously, we’re only ever going to be able to speculate on that point now.
I think history will eventually look on Sarri’s year at Juventus in a slightly better light, because at least 70 percent of this team’s problems stemmed from mistakes by the front office. But the team had far too many breakdowns this year for him to totally dodge the rap. His winning of the club’s ninth Scudetto in a row in a season of unprecedented challenges is to be commended, but this year certainly didn’t live up to the standards of the previous eight, which drag down Sarri’s grade from me.