Sarri gets a winners' medal, but may still leave Chelsea
BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Maurizio Sarri can take the Europa League title to the bank.
The Chelsea manager and ex-banker already had the most improbable rise from Tuscan amateur teams to soccer's elite, but he had never before had a winners' medal.
That all changed with Wednesday's 4-1 win over Arsenal in the Europa League final. Even with that, Sarri may still leave Chelsea.
Always an outsider, Sarri took a moment during the celebrations to sit in the dugout and light a cigarette — never mind the stadium's smoking ban. Known as a demanding and somewhat aloof coach, he has struggled to win over Chelsea's fans and admits to not always understanding one of his best players, Eden Hazard.
"Hazard is a wonderful player but you have to spend two, three months to understand him as a man," Sarri said after the match. "But when you are able to understand him as a man, he's a wonderful man."
Hazard said Wednesday he is leaving Chelsea, and Sarri may yet follow suit.
Chelsea may not want to keep a coach who has delivered scintillating attacking "Sarriball" at times, but also a 6-0 loss to Manchester City. Also, Sarri has not ruled himself out of the race for the vacant job at Juventus.
Sarri was asked after Wednesday's game if he had done enough to stay at Chelsea.
"I think so, but it's only my opinion," the Italian said. "My opinion is not enough."
Now that the season's over, Sarri plans to speak with the Chelsea hierarchy, potentially including owner Roman Abramovich, who was in Azerbaijan for the final.
"We need to know what the club can do for me, what I can do better for the club," Sarri said.
Sarri's first victorious final matched the trajectory of his season with Chelsea. An underwhelming first half, pressure to show results, then a second-half resurgence. In the Premier League, that was a charge up the standings to third. On Wednesday, it was four goals in a manic 23-minute spell.
"Something changed at the beginning of February, I think," Sarri said. "We lost 6-0 in Manchester against City but we started something different. And so our feeling is that we deserve that win."
And the title.