Frank Lampard could rejuvenate Chelsea stars after frustrating season under Maurizio Sarri | Football | Sport
A perfunctory handshake with his assistant after the 4-1 annihilation of Arsenal to secure the Europa League trophy on top of Champions League football after finishing third in the Premier League, and Sarri was off down the tunnel.
Ten days later, it did not escape the attention of the Chelsea hierarchy that after a polite embrace with Mauricio Pochettino, Jurgen Klopp shook the hands warmly with every Liverpool player and member of staff before driving them towards the banks horde of red in the Wanda Metopolitano Stadium to celebrate winning the other European trophy.
It means that, with a due sense of caution, the Chelsea board have finally come around to deciding that Frank Lampard is their man to face up to Klopp’s Liverpool in the European Super Cup next month.
The Chelsea legend is a players’ manager and a fans’ manager. Sarri never showed any interest in becoming either. Nor an owner’s manager.
That is why there was such a sense of relief when homesickness, living so far from his elderly parents, and an offer from Juventus presented such an easy end to the experiment.
It was one that was destined to fail from the start – how could it be otherwise with no chemistry whatsoever? The only spark Sarri ever produced at the club’s training ground was when he lit one of the illicit cigarettes that left a permanent fog in his wake around the corridors.
That was not what the players found most distasteful, though.
It was the interference with training schedules to introduce afternoon sessions instead of morning ones which interfered with the school run, the insistence on a pre-match set-piece session which interfered with long-standing game preparations.
This, from a man who was obsessed with so many superstitions – including not setting foot on the pitch – that they became impossible to count.
It was an aspect that was to become a joke around the club – how good could these superstitions be given he had not won anything yet?
The Chelsea players, of course, were used to winning things regularly – not least the title under Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte.
Followed each time, Sarri was always at pains to point out, by an utterly abject defence.
“One… ten… one… five…” he would intone, marking off the final position in each of the previous seasons on his gnarled, nicotine-stained fingers.
Sarri could not understand the lack of character that meant a team of champions could subsequently struggle so badly.
Perhaps he could have given his charges the benefit of the doubt and wondered how his side could regularly lift themselves from the doldrums to the summit of the toughest league in the world.
Not Sarri, though. Not with his pessimism.
He does have a very dry, acute sense of humour. “Unfortunately, I am getting used to this,” he smiled when asked again about the fans chanting for his head in one of the final games of the season against Cardiff.
But it was nowhere enough to win over supporters who were frankly bored with the football he produced since his arrival.
“Sarri”-ball became “sorry”-ball and ultimately, things just turned horrible. Results no longer seemed to matter even as Eden Hazard galvanised the pride to the players to finish stronger and pinch a top-four finish.
Lampard would inherit a mildly poisoned chalice but not one he could wash not out with new blood. Perhaps not from the transfer market, with a UEFA ban looming over the club, but from the kids who in previous years have gone out on loan to delight other fans.
This would not so much be a new managerial appointment as a new philosophy, with youth both on and off the field as Chelsea chase the Holy Grail of a return to the very best times.
And one thing is for sure, Lampard’s chalice will be very much half-full.