Last summer, we saw Maurizio Sarri and Chelsea FC mutually agree to part ways and terminate Sarri’s contract. The Italian decided to sign with Juventus. In his one season with the club he was quite successful winning the Europa League and finishing fourth in the league. What were your thoughts on Sarri’s one season with Chelsea?
“It was an up and down season for Maurizio Sarri. He was somebody that was appointed to actually change Chelsea and have more of a long-term vision, taking a more defensive style club for all the years they had Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte and to try and make it his own.
“When they started facing some adversity, I think you saw one of the big flaws in Maurizio Sarri that he doesn’t have a Plan B – but he doesn’t choose to have a Plan B, [he] purposely chooses to have a really good Plan A. I think he had a little bit of a rude awakening and you can’t have no adaptability in the Premier League.
“I think he certainly was hit with some cold hard truths there in the middle of the season. Like he should have known, when you don’t do well at Cheslea [FC], you’re going to come under a lot of fire from within the club [and] from the media, but it’s a place that’s very unforgiving towards their managers. So, he realized that quickly, but one huge personality trait that he has and Antonio Conte has is they’re stubborn. They believe in their vision, that’s a good thing and a bad thing.
“Sarri kept the ship upright, got third place [in Premier League] and got the Europa League trophy. [It was] his first ever trophy and he really [left] on terms that most Chelsea managers don’t get to leave on, on good terms. It really doesn’t happen. You either get sacked or you walk away, but under a really toxic term or manner. It was more the perfect storm of why he left.”
Chelsea decided to replace Sarri with club legend Frank Lampard. The 41-year agreed to a three-year deal which will see him with the club until June 2022. Upon arriving, the club had been sanctioned a transfer ban and were unable to purchase players in the summer transfer window. What were your thoughts of Lampard being appointed the new manager of Chelsea? Did you think he was the right person to manage this squad given the circumstances the club was in?
“Chelsea have had a phenomenal academy for a long time. If there’s anything they’ve struggled with, it’s to have stability and have more of a clear direction [and] foundation. They really have won trophies based on being a big club and always having players that have championship pedigree.
“They [have] been such an interesting team with a lot of turmoil and toxicity from year to year and also a team that was always producing this great young talent but choosing to never use them for anything but a business model and just to profit off of those – send them on loan and their careers will probably get stagnated, but we’ll still be able to sell them. We’ll just keep doing this with all the talent we produce and we’re going to make a lot of money off of it.
“It’s about time we see if they could make it at our club [Chelsea] and if we have a transfer ban and we have a manager that also might be leaving us (Maurizio Sarri), well I think it’s time to hire a manager who knows the club, knows how important using these players can be and is willing to use these players.
“By the way, his assistant manager, Jody Morris, managed all these players at the academy level. It was the exact reasoning [why] Chelsea would need to use the youth and finally hire someone like Frank Lampard, who’s resume, managerial-wise was almost incomplete. One year at Derby [County] and you could debate if it was good, okay, or not good but he was the manager to use youth, to know the youth and to know what the club needs.
“The only last reason why I think the club went with it and why I was also really okay with it is how damn good Liverpool and Manchester City are. It also helped because if they felt that the league is wide open, I don’t think they would have done it. I don’t think they would have hired Frank Lampard, they would have hired a more experienced manager.”
If you could pick one, which player do you feel has made the most impact this season from the Chelsea Academy?
“Tammy Abraham or Mason Mount. Tammy Abraham has the stats on his side. [He has] thirteen goals, three assists and really proved that there is no number nine curse and that he could be the starting striker for Chelsea now and, more importantly, in the future – really until the last month or so of the season, where he was injured and just looked kind of overran and fatigued.
“On the flip, Mason Mount [had] six goals, four assists, and played more of an honest midfielder even though he wasn’t going to be the player of the season for Chelsea (I think that was Mateo Kovačić), Mason Mount was asked to do the most this season. [He] Played in the most Premier League games for Chelsea and played in, by far, the most positions. He played as an eight, ten, a left winger, right inside forward, left inside forward and sometimes a shadow striker.
“[He was] the defensive leader out there, not in terms of a centre-back or goalkeeper, but in terms of pressing which is a huge identity to Lampard. He was always the one leading everyone to closing down angles, how to press in a certain way, in a certain style and waving on players like N’Golo Kanté, Kovačić, Willian and Pedro. Those are all players who are known to have really good work rates.
“That’s vastly impressive and really beyond what a 20 and 21-year-old should be asked to do in the Premier League. Obviously, the background that Mason Mount had with Frank Lampard the season before at Derby helped. He really was asked to kind of be more of a senior player while having his first season in the Premier League. At the end of the day, I will say Tammy because goals win you games and he had thirteen goals, no penalties, scored in a variety of ways and scored some big ones.”
Callum Hudson-Odoi last season had a very good year with Chelsea. His season ended with an Achilles injury. This is a serious injury that could really change a player’s career. Now, this year he has returned to the club but hasn’t been nearly the same as he was last year and that’s due to the fact, he’s missed a lot of playing time. The forward has put in mixed performances as he’s shown to play at a high level as well at a level that shows his form is not there yet. Do you feel Callum has been treated unfairly this season and do you expect him to regain the form that he showed last season?
“Yes, I totally expect him to get back to what we thought he would be currently doing. I think people don’t know enough about the Achilles injury. It is such a tough injury, even when you’re back. Look at any sport, players don’t usually feel like themselves and have that out of their head mentally for a year after. the stats are there to prove it.
“I was definitely gutting for him and think yeah, at moments he came back and was actually phenomenal.
“He was also kind of thrown in the fire. He wasn’t thrown back into a team that had a bunch of senior players, like Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and you could kind of ease back in. Once he was fit and ready to go, he was somebody that Frank Lampard needed to play quite a lot.
“He did turn things around to a certain extent in terms of performances right before he pulled up with a hamstring injury.
“He’s just insanely talented, he is 19 [years old] and he is a confident kid. So yeah, you might snowball in your head a little bit with the flack you’re getting for not being [Kylian] Mbappé right away, but he is somebody that [was] thrown back out there and especially with this team whose got such a great spirit. He’s somebody that’s going to exude confidence and really will hit the ground running.
“I have no doubt about it. He’s so young still and now he has plenty of adversity. The sooner you experience adversity, the really more well prepared you’ll be for a bad game in the future and more likely it doesn’t not turn into a long slump.
“I think he’s in the right situation, on the right team to feel confident, feel backed and be able to go express himself. Still, he’s going to be a key player for Lampard. It’s a young squad, Willian and Pedro are most certainly leaving [and they have left now] and so really its there for the taking for him.”
A big thank you to Alex Goldberg for the interview. Make sure to check his podcast out ‘The Byline’ and his social media platforms. Feel free to check out The Chelsea Spot too for more interviews, including one with ex Chelsea legend Pat Nevin!
Interview by Jerry.