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10 January 2019

Maurizio Sarri - football manager

Chelsea’s former Napoli coach is 60 today


Maurizio Sarri spent more than 20 years working in global finance before devoting himself to football
Maurizio Sarri spent more than 20 years working in
global finance before devoting himself to football
The football coach Maurizio Sarri - currently manager of Chelsea in the English Premier League - was born on this day in 1959 in Naples.

Sarri, who has an unusual background for a professional football coach in that he spent more than 20 years in banking before devoting himself to the game full-time, took over as Chelsea manager last summer, succeeding another Italian, Antonio Conte.

Previously, he had spent three seasons as head coach at SSC Napoli, twice finishing second and once third in Serie A.  He never played professionally, yet he has now held coaching positions at 19 different clubs.

Sarri was born in the Bagnoli district of Naples, where his father, Amerigo, a former professional cyclist, worked in the sprawling but now derelict Italsider steel plant.  It was not long, however, before the family moved away, however, first to Castro, a village on the shore of Lago d’Iseo, near Bergamo, and then to Figline Valdarno, in Tuscany, his father’s birthplace.

It was there that Sarri grew up and played football for the local amateur team. A centre half, he had trials with Torino and Fiorentina but was deemed not quite good enough for the professional game.

Sarri's Napoli team twice finished runners-up in  Serie A but were unable to overhaul Juventus
Sarri's Napoli team twice finished runners-up in
Serie A but were unable to overhaul Juventus
Instead, he focussed on a career in banking, finding employment with the prestigious Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which has a history going back more than 500 years. He was held in such high regard as a currency trader he was posted to London, Zurich, Frankfurt and Luxembourg at times.

His love of football remained with him, however, and in 1990 he began coaching alongside his high-flying day job, first with the local amateur team at Stia, a pretty town in the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, close to the sources of the Arno river.  They were in the eighth tier of the Italian football pyramid.

Sarri left Stia after one season and continued to work with small Tuscan clubs, winning promotion promotion with Faellese, Cavriglia and Antella. When in 2000 he took over at Sansovino, the team representing the historic town of Monte San Savino, near Arezzo, he was so certain he could win promotion to Serie D in his first season he vowed to quit coaching and concentrate on his banking career if they failed.

As it was, they were promoted and he decided instead to quit banking, relinquishing a good salary and job security to focus full time on football.

Sarri achieved promotion with several small clubs in Italy
Sarri achieved promotion with
several small clubs in Italy
The decision looked a good one when he achieved more promotion success with another Tuscan club, Sangiovannese, whom he took to Serie C1, but less so over the following few years when spells in Serie B with Pescara, Arezzo (where he succeeded - and was replaced by - Antonio Conte, ironically), Verona and Perugia, and even a return to the lower tiers with Grosseto, Alessandria and Sorrento, yielded largely frustration and several sackings.

Sarri’s big break came in the summer of 2012 when, six months after being dismissed by Sorrento, he was hired as coach by Fabrizio Corsi, the chairman of ambitious Tuscan Serie B club Empoli, who judged that Sarri was a technically gifted coach who, given a squad of better quality than some of those he had worked with, would be able to achieve success.

His assessment was correct. Corsi backed him with some strong signings and, after just missing promotion in his first season in charge, when Empoli were beaten in the play-off final, Sarri led the team directly to Serie A at the second attempt.

After keeping Empoli safely in the top flight in the 2014-15, Sarri was taken on by Napoli, the club of the city of his birth, of which he had been a lifelong fan.  It seemed a bold choice to replace the proven Rafa Benitez but, it transpired, a shrewd one.

Having honed to perfection his fluid, attacking 4-3-3 system over the years, Napoli enjoyed three exceptional seasons. Playing the most exciting football in Serie A, Napoli set a club record by scoring 80 goals in the 2015-16 campaign, yet despite selling top scorer Gonzalo Higuain to arch rivals Juventus, surpassed it by a staggering 14 goals - the most scored by any team in one season in Serie A history - the following year.

Sarri is a heavy smoker - even during matches, although at  most grounds regulations do not permit him to do so
Sarri is a heavy smoker - even during matches, although at
most grounds regulations do not permit him to do so
They did so thanks to a Sarri masterstroke, converted wide player Dries Mertens into a free-scoring centre forward so that he could invest the €90 million from the Higuain sale in other areas of the team.

Napoli were Serie A’s campioni d’inverno - the accolade given to the team top at the halfway stage - twice in Sarri’s three seasons, even though he was never able to hold off Juventus in the late stages of the campaign. His reputation received a further boost, ahead of his move to England, when no less a coach than Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola described Sarri’s Napoli as the “best team I have faced in my career” following their meeting in the Champions League.

Famously a heavy smoker - he would chain-smoke even during matches in Italy - he is married to Marina with one son. He keeps his private life quiet, spending his downtime at his villa on the Italian riviera.

Sarri's assistant manager at Chelsea is the club's former star player, the Sardinian Gianfanco Zola.

The Piazza Marsilio Ficino is the main square in Figline Valdarno
The Piazza Marsilio Ficino is the main
square in Figline Valdarno
Travel tip:

Figline Valdarno, situated in the upper reaches of the Arno valley some 35km (22 miles) southeast of Florence, is an historic town that was a major cultural centre during the Renaissance. The centre is the Piazza Marsilio Ficino, an attractive market square, at the end of which is the church of Santa Maria Assunta, which adjoins the Museum of Sacred Art, in which can be found a panel painting from the late 1400s of the Martyrdom of St. Lawrence, attributed to Cigoli.  An Annunciation painted by the young Cigoli can also be found in the Chapel of the Villa San Cerbone, where the refectory contains a Last Supper by Giorgio Vasari.  L'Antico Caffe Greco, in the centre, is run by a Napoli supporter, Agostino Iaiunese.

Find a hotel in Figline Valdarno with tripadvisor

The Loggia dei Mercanti in Monte San Savino, where Sarri enjoyed success with the local team, Sansovino
The Loggia dei Mercanti in Monte San Savino, where
Sarri enjoyed success with the local team, Sansovino
Travel tip:

Perched on a mountain that overlooks the Esse Valley, about 22km (14 miles) southwest of Arezzo and inhabited since the Etruscan period, Monte San Savino, where Maurizio Sarri coached the local team to promotion, was the home of the notable 15th century sculptor and architect Andrea Sansovino, who lived in the town’s most prosperous era. Relics of that golden period include the Porta Fiorentina, the striking Sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Vertighe, several picturesque small churches, the Palazzo Di Monte, the Logge dei Mercanti and an impressive Synagogue. The town has an annual porchetta festival to celebrate the traditional Tuscan speciality of slow-roasted pig.

Monte San Savino hotels from Hotels.com

More reading:

The southern Italian roots of top coach Antonio Conte

Why Chelsea fans rate Gianfranco Zola their greatest player of all time

Ottavio Bianchi - the northerner who steered Maradona's Napoli to the club's first Serie A title

Also on this day:

987: The death of powerful Venetian Doge Pietro Orseolo

1890: The birth of silent movie star Pina Menichelli

1903: The birth of car designer Flaminio Bertoni


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