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The most disliked Chelsea boss since Benitez - how Sarri lost the fans

10:00 GMT 21/02/2019
Maurizio Sarri Rafa Benitez Chelsea
The Blues supporters never took to the former Liverpool boss but their unhappiness was nothing compared to the backlash Maurizio Sarri is now enduring

Not since Rafael Benitez has a Chelsea manager been as disliked as Maurizio Sarri.

Blues supporters have grown bitterly disillusioned with the Italian's dogged tactical approach, which they feel is responsible for the Blues being knocked out of the FA Cup, and dropping rapidly down the Premier League table.

The recent 4-0 and 6-0 losses to Bournemouth and Manchester City, respectively, were historically bad results but Chelsea's overall form across the winter period has been wretched.

Many managers have been fallen out of favour at Chelsea under the ownership of Roman Abramovich.

Benitez, though, was greeted with immediate disdain by fans who hadn't forgotten the barbed comments the Spaniard aimed at the west Londoners during his time in charge of Liverpool.

By contrast, everyone wanted Sarri to succeed when he arrived at Chelsea during the summer.

The Blues fans were seduced by the prospect of the kind of expansive, possession-based football that has rarely been seen at Stamford Bridge, with the club's previous successes having been achieved under pragmatists like Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte.

Less than eight months on, though, and that dream has died.

Chants of "F*ck Sarriball" came from the Matthew Harding End in Monday's FA Cup last-16 loss to Manchester United. It was a landmark moment, the first time Chelsea fans had turned so viciously on their club's manager over his tactics.

It is not that Chelsea don't want to see good football but, as Sarri says, he is a "dreamer" and the club's most passionate supporters now believe that the Italian is in sleep-walking towards a cliff edge.

Sarri is choosing to live or die at Chelsea by his tactical approach, having lined up in the same 4-3-3 system in each game, using a core group of just 14 players.

However, he has received criticism for his use of defensive midfielder N'Golo Kante in a more attacking role, Jorginho's lack of physicality in the engine room and his refusal to invest more faith in the club's famed Academy players.

Chelsea-born comedian Omid Djalili is best known for making people laugh but he is saddened by the current situation at Stamford Bridge.

"I hate to say it because I wanted to believe in Sarriball," he confesses. "Now it feels like Chelsea are my best friend getting beaten up by teenage girls. Manchester United are not that good, but they found it easy against us."

Djalili, who still manages to follow the Blues home and away in spite of his hectic schedule, says that Sarri's loss of support is unprecedented at Chelsea, the kind of fan fury that evokes memories of the Middlesbrough supporter who tore up a season ticket in 2006 and threw it at then manager Steve McClaren.

"So many fans walked out during the United game," he reveals. "It was quite a landmark moment. I had never seen that before. I even wanted to get away quickly myself because I had a gig, but I couldn’t get to my motorbike because so many supporters were leaving.

"As soon as [Davide] Zappacosta came on for Cesar Azpilicueta, with Hudson-Odoi and Olivier Giroud on the bench, I saw the stadium empty. I thought that was it for Sarri; people were screaming.

"A lot of us still believed before that game. But we have hit a point of no return, unfortunately. We have lost faith.

"I think we should change. Before the League Cup final [against Manchester City on Sunday]. I am surprised he hasn’t gone already."

Alex Goldberg is also struggling to make a case for retaining Sarri's services.

As the producer and co-host of The Calcioland Podcast, he is more familiar than most with the Tuscan's achievements at former club Napoli. 

As such, Goldberg, a die-hard Chelsea die-hard among the club's growing U.S. fanbase, believes that Sarri attempts to completely revolutionise the club's footballing philosophy have been hindered by the Blues' general instability.

However, even he has been left mystified by the 60-year-old's decision-making.

"I wonder if things will really get better under Sarri," Goldberg admits. "It is great when it works, but his substitutions are head-scratching, team selections are illogical, and his tactical changes are non-existent. I don't see him improving.

"I think it is a risky move to sack him too, but Chelsea are between a rock and a hard place; both sacking him and not sacking him seem like bad options.

"There's no obvious replacement to help them compete until the end of the season with Champions League football still to fight for."

Dave Johnstone has been left just as bemused by Sarri's stubborness.

The founder of the cfcuk fanzine – a publication set up in 1999 to protest the ownership of Ken Bates of Chelsea just before Roman Abramovich took over and saved the club – has experienced plenty of hard times at the Bridge, including four relegations.

Consequently, he feels the seriousness of the present situation has been somewhat overblown.

Nonetheless, he freely admits that Sarri is one of the strangest managers in Chelsea's history.

"Sometimes at Stamford Bridge it seems like the 40,000 people in the stands are better players than those on the pitch and sometimes it seems like they are better managers than the man in the dugout," Johnstone points out. "The same goes for the 100 million online.

"But I don't think it is easy to run, play for or manage Chelsea. Abramovich has been there for 15 years. If you are a 25-year-old fan, then you are not used to seeing struggle but football is about struggle.

"The fans do deserve to hear their voices heard, though, particularly those who have been following the club through thick and thin for years. And a lot of people who have seen even more of Chelsea than me say that this is one of the more bizarre managers that we have ever had.

"He is so inflexible. I don't think everyone at the club is on board with him. He cuts a sorry figure.

"I do think it will be hard for him to change opinions. A lot of people have said to me, 'I would be happy if we go to Wembley on Sunday [against Man City] and we don't lose more than 3-0.'"

It's clear that many Chelsea fans have given up on 'Sarriball'. Johnstone, though, certainly isn't giving up on Chelsea.

"If you support the club, you support them through thick and thin," he adds.

"Up the Blues! I will always love you."