BAKU: Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri declared his “love” for his players, and for English football, before possibly his last match in charge of the Blues in Wednesday’s Europa League final against London rivals Arsenal.
Sarri, who has been booed on some occasions by fans unhappy with his style of play, declined to comment on speculation that he was about to return to a coaching job in his native Italy after just one year at Chelsea.
“For me at the beginning of the season it was really very difficult to understand my players, to understand the mentality. But after a very difficult month in January, in February they started to change, I think, or probably I changed, I don’t know,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
“In this moment, I love them because I have 20, 22 wonderful men, and wonderful players. So now I am really very happy with them. Of course I have to consider it for the future and I have to consider that I love the English football and I love the Premier League,” he said.
Pressed about his future, Sarri said: “Today I need to speak only about the final and my players need that I speak only about the final.”
Under Sarri, Chelsea qualified for the Champions League next season and only lost the League Cup final on penalties to Manchester City who won all three domestic trophies, a record that Sarri stressed was a success.
“If we are able to win, the season will become wonderful,” Sarri said of Wednesday’s showdown with Arsenal.
But the Italian has failed to endear himself with many Chelsea fans who tired of his insistence on sticking to his game-plan, even as some heavy losses piled up in the winter.
The agitation in the stands fuelled speculation that Sarri might join a long list of coaches shown the door at Stamford Bridge after only a short spell in the job.
Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta acknowledged the season’s problems, which included a 6-0 thrashing by Manchester City in the league, shortly after a 4-0 defeat by mid-table Bournemouth.
“We have had ups and downs, but from the downs we became stronger,” the Spain defender said. “We built a stronger group and that is one of the reasons we are here tonight…We have no time for the speculation at this moment.”
Sarri said the chance of midfielder N’Golo Kante recovering from a knee injury in time for kickoff on Wednesday was 50-50.
“I hope to recover him because I know very well that without N’Golo for us, it is a problem,” he said.
Sarri suggested striker Olivier Giroud was likely to start against his former club and he heaped praise, as well as some criticism, on Belgium winger Eden Hazard who is expected to leave Chelsea after seven years to join Real Madrid.
“It’s a pleasure during the match. Sometimes during the week it is a problem,” Sarri said of Hazard. “It is a problem because he is a talent and during the training sometimes he’s (bored) because for him everything is really very, very easy.”