TURIN – Juventus and Maurizio Sarri always seemed like something of an odd couple, and so it proved on Saturday when the Turin side ditched their chain-smoking coach after one season, despite winning their ninth successive Serie A title with him.
Tired of being labelled dull, Juve gambled on Sarri in the hope that he could bring them the same joyful, flowing football that characterised his Napoli team for three seasons between 2015 and 2018.
But that was always going to be a tall order, and the gruff, track-suited 61-year-old looked uncomfortable from the moment Juventus made him wear a suit for his official presentation.
At Napoli, Sarri had the right mix of players to perform his complex passing movements, such as Jose Callejon, Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne in attack, Marek Hamsek and Jorginho in midfield and overlapping full backs Elseid Hysaj and Mario Rui.
His methods also require intensive training and time before they begin to bear fruit – something he was unlikely to get at Juventus.
The Juventus squad he inherited was not as well-balanced, and one player in particular appeared incompatible with his style of play – Cristiano Ronaldo.
For all his undoubted qualities, the 35-year-old is not suited to pressing the opposition or to constant movement, instead performing in explosive bursts.
Halfway through the season, Sarri conceded that he would have to adapt to his players rather than vice-versa.
“Ronaldo creates a small problem because you know you have a champion in the team and it has to be set up around him, but at the same time it solves 100 of them,” said Sarri. “You just have to be clear that everything revolves around him.”
In the end, Juventus were neither entertaining nor as ruthless as they had been under previous coach Massimiliano Allegri.
This season’s tally of 83 points was their lowest since 2011, while their total of seven defeats was the same as in the previous two seasons combined.
Their possession was often sterile and they relied on individual moments from Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala.
“We struggled to interpret the coach’s instructions at times,” said defender Leonardo Bonucci.
After losing to Napoli in the Coppa Italia final, the only salvation for Sarri would have been a good run in the Champions League.
But when that hope was extinguished with Friday’s elimination at the hands of Olympique Lyonnais, the club brought its relationship with Sarri to a swift end as many thought it would.