“I never ask for for anything on the transfer market… I’m not that type of coach.” It’s been a recurrent response of Sarri’s during press conferences throughout the past year. Maurizio Sarri has always seen himself as a football-first sort of coach and taken pride in his approach to the job. He’s even corrected journalists when they’ve referred to him as a manager, emphasizing that he does not meddle in transfer strategy as many “managers” do. From his point of view, it’s the club’s duty to provide him with players and it’s his job to teach and coach those players. He’s even sent out some not so veiled criticisms toward coaches that concern themselves more with the transfer market than the football pitch.
It’s easy to understand Sarri’s perspective when you consider his background. The Neapolitan-born, Tuscan-raised footballing maestro has had to prove himself in the lower divisions of Italian football before he got his shot in the Serie A. When you are coaching in the third division, it’s not as if you have an extensive international scouting network or the means to sign top talent. Without world-class talent or the huge talent gaps often prevalent in top-tier football, a coach’s influence and skill become all the more apparent. That’s why coaches who have worked their way up through the ranks of the lower tiers often speak of their successes with great pride.
And yet perhaps things are changing for the Napoli headman. When Adam Ounas’ agent recently revealed that Sarri was a driving force behind the transfer and that Maurizio constantly checked in to receive updates, many were left surprised. This obviously doesn’t fit the image of a coach disinterested with the transfer market that we had developed in our mind. Also, the rumors currently linking Mario Rui with a move south from the capital also cite Sarri’s desire to be reunited with his former Empoli left back. This is yet another sign of Sarri’s involvement in the current transfer window. And yet if we’ve been paying close attention for the past half year or so, Sarri’s evolution into something more than just a coach should have been apparent. From the swapping out of Gabbiadini for Pavoletti (much to the dissatisfaction of Aurelio De Laurentiis), to Sarri’s public comments on the importance of keeping the core of the team together, to his stout defense of goalkeeper Pepe Reina; we can see a coach that is becoming more and more comfortable wielding his influence outside of the footballing rectangle.
That is by no means a bad thing. Sarri is a very bright man, and as such, should be expected to evolve as time passes. As I alluded to earlier, part of Sarri’s past disinterest in the transfer market had to be due to the limited options his former clubs offered him. With Napoli, he is able to rely on resources that he never had before, and even able handpick a player from a pool of international talent. Why shouldn’t he take an active part in selecting the right talent for his system?
On the other hand, the impressive brand of football he has his Napoli side putting on display has gained him international praise, and with it, the ability to attract top-notch talent and the power to make demands of his club which he couldn’t before. Sarri is well-aware of his new standing and wisely using it to his advantage. He can use his new-found popularity to lure in skilled players like he did with Ounas or as leverage against the club to ensure he is put in the best situation to succeed; just as his successful requests to keep the team together demonstrate.
Aurelio De Laurentiis has said he wishes Sarri to become the Alex Ferguson of Napoi referring to the long years the Scotsman spent with Manchester United. However, Sarri may be taking such comparisons to heart and be on his way to becoming a force beyond the football pitch as Sir Alex was with Manchester. It will be interesting to see how Sarri continues to evolve into his new role, and Napoli supporters will surely be hoping to see him bring some of the successes Ferguson enjoyed in England to the shadows of the Vesuvius.