CHELSEA may be in the process of being treated in the same way they have dealt with their long stream of managers in the Abramovich era. In other words, Maurizio Sarri has told the club he wants to leave – just one year into his contract. Sarri, of course, ended the season with Champions League qualification and a trophy – his first (and probably only) year at the club has been a success. The fact that he’s decided to return to Italy and join Juventus is a message akin to “up yours” to Chelsea. Can you blame him? There were rumours for months that Chelsea wanted this manager, desired that manager, and that one of their favourite sons, Frank Lampard, was heading back to Stamford Bridge. Sarri didn’t fit the bill, even though his record was just as good as any prior incumbent of the Chelsea ejector seat. For a start, his mere appearance isn’t in keeping with the club’s desired dynamic profile, a half-shaven, balding chain smoker with communication issues. But there was also something mildly lovable about this unassuming character – his reaction to winning a medal was very endearing – who is much smarter and intelligent than most of the people around him. He’s a former banker, coming from an industry that’s every bit as cut-throat as football, although the Italian banking sector is somewhat haphazard. Again, who can deny him the chance of managing Italy’s top club? Chelsea will regret it, I think (and I say this as a 50-year Blues fan) and the romantic illusion of Lampard prematurely getting the job may be as self-destructive as dear old John Hollins being installed in the mid-1980s. The way the fans have reacted to Sarri tells you one thing – that some of the people in the stands now have the same mind-set as those behind the scenes – in other words, no attention span for building something medium-term. Careful what you wish for!
WHAT is going on with Neymar? Firstly, he has a contretemps with a fan at the Coupe de France final in Paris, admittedly a mouthy supporter handing-out stick to the PSG players, and then he reacts to a nutmeg in training with the Brazilian squad ahead of the Copa America by flooring young Weverton. Anyone who sees audacity and cheek as part of the Brazilian football ethos must have been disappointed – Neymar wasn’t exactly encouraging of his team-mate. Furthermore, and probably more worrying, is the fact Neymar has been accused of rape. Suddenly, he seems a little like a troubled player, could it be that the next stage is a transfer out of Paris? There is plenty of tabloid speculation about Neymar with talk that he wants to leave, denials that he wants to leave and rumours that he doesn’t get on with certain players. The most likely scenario? A pay rise.
BERLIN will have a Bundesliga derby next season after Union Berlin won promotion for the first time. Union will bring something very special to Germany’s top division. Their fans are passionate, the club is a little bit of a cult and it is about time the capital was better represented. A few years ago, I attempted to visit Union and made the trip out to Köpenick to their stadium. But I could not find it! I went into a branch of Deutsche Bank (my employer at the time) and asked for directions, but went in the wrong direction and although I found the social club as I circled back towards the railway station, I couldn’t locate the actual ground. The ground-spotters guide, floodlights, never appeared on my horizon. A couple of years earlier, when I was at a conference and staying at the most chichi hotel in Berlin, the famous Adlon, I arranged to meet a couple of Union fans and they filled me in about the club, their hatred of Dynamo from the old DDR days, and their burning desire to get to the Bundesliga. The club was once in financial difficulty and the fans launched a campaign called “bleeding for Union” in which they sold blood donations to raise money. The Bundesliga will be a richer place for their presence.