Maurizio Sarri: Chelsea’s Tuscan Son

The presence of Baiano was, in itself, proof of how far all of those small steps had taken Sarri. In his prime, Baiano had played for Napoli, Parma and Fiorentina. He had even represented his country twice. In the twilight of his career, he had been brought to Sangiovannese, in the town of San Giovanni Valdarno, by Arduino Casprini, the club’s president, who was determined to take his team from Serie C2 into Serie B, Italian soccer’s second division.

Sarri was brought in with the same aim. Though he had never traveled far, word of his abilities had spread. “The president talked to me, as one of the most experienced players,” Baiano said. “He told me he was appointing a coach from the lower leagues, but that he was really smart, really well-prepared. That is exactly how I found him. I’d had a lot of coaches in Serie A by that stage. Even then, Sarri was already a great coach.”

The style then, Baiano said, was not the style that would become famous. “We did not have the players to play so technically,” he said. “We played into the wingers: we had a lot of quick players. We played a lot on the counterattack. If anything, it was a little like Liverpool.”

The approach, though, was the same as it had always been, the same as it still is. Both Baiano and Bergamaschi use the same word to describe Sarri’s work ethic, its meaning obvious, flattering. He was, they both say, “maniacale” in his approach to soccer: a maniac.

That is what took him from Stia to Sangiovannese, to all the points in between, and on to Serie A, to Napoli, and now to Chelsea. Everywhere he has been, they remember, takes a little pride in how far this son of Tuscany has gone. In Figline Valdarno, a friend has turned his coffee bar, Caffe Greco, into a shrine to the town’s most famous son.

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