With Lazio, Sarri can finally get back to railing against the establishment


It was a fitting ending to a wild and beautiful Capital Derby.

Maurizio Sarri, coach of the winning Lazio team, stood on the athletics track surrounding the Stadio Olimpico pitch, staring in disbelief at the eagle perched on his arm.

Olimpia, the mascot of the Lazio club for 11 years, is something to watch: a 12 kg bird of prey with a wingspan of two and a half meters.

Sarri quickly realized that he would be unable to support his weight with one arm, lifting the other up and holding his new friend close to him. Basically, the Curva was writhing with delirious joy as they beat their hated rivals – José Mourinho’s Roma – by three goals to two.

Rumors that a local man was later arrested in the Rome area for teaching a bird of prey to smoke cigarettes are currently unfounded.

As always, Sarri managed to look both shy and extremely cool. It was exactly these qualities that made him such a memorable coach during his year in the Premier League and meant fans of neutral teams couldn’t keep their eyes on the Chelsea manager.

And it’s those images – the chain smoking, the tracksuits, almost leaving Wembley after Kepa’s insubordination – that define the popular perception of Sarri.

Sarriball, a forward possession and pressing style of play that won him admirers at Napoli, has usually been overlooked or turned into a punchline in an increasingly boring joke.

Sarri’s season at Chelsea has never lived up to the aesthetic he created at Napoli, but it has brought a European trophy. Football could be heavy, but it was much better than the open door policy enforced by the defense under Frank Lampard.

A surprise move to Juventus followed, but it never seemed like the right fit. Sarri is a man who prides himself on speaking out against the establishment, but Juve have been shocked his manager refused to wear a suit.

He won the Serie A title but this feat has barely been recorded at a club that has been eating chocolate cake every day for the past 10 years. The lack of meaningful progress in the Champions League saw Sarri sacked after just one season in Turin.

Despite winning trophies and playing exciting football (but, most importantly, not necessarily both at the same time), Sarri was in danger of falling by the wayside. A year of lack of management did nothing to deter this conclusion.

But Lazio took the plunge and appointed Sarri as their new manager in June 2021. His appointment was greeted positively by fans at the club, but without such fanfare as the one that greeted Mourinho across town.

And while Mourinho won six straight games early in his reign, Lazio have been more inconsistent under Sarri. A 6-1 beating from Spezia bode well, but the tasteless losses to Milan and Galatasary spoke of a team still adjusting to their new boss.

Despite this, Sarri’s work ethic had not gone unnoticed. Local media reported that he had barely left the Formello club’s training ground since arriving, sleeping in a room at the facility and even skipping off-campus meals hosted by his coaching staff.

And the derby victory will earn him more credit with the supporters than anything he has done so far.

Sergei Milkenovic-Savic pulled the strings in midfield and led Lazio’s opener after just 10 minutes into the game. Further goals from Pedro and Felipe Anderson sealed a well-deserved victory for Lazio and let the Italian press fall at Sarri’s feet.

Corriere dello Sport referred to “the excitement and controversy” and quoted Sarri as saying: “So satisfying, we hope we’ve found the right path.”

Tuttosport hailed the show as a “festival of goals”, while La Gazzetta dello Sport hailed the former Chelsea and Juventus boss as “special” and “eagle eyed”.

Which brings us back to Olimpia. “She sleeps near my room at the Formello training ground, so I hear her sometimes,” smiled Sarri on DAZN.

He is right to smile. Sarri finally appears to be building a club that suits his idiosyncratic personality and can aim to bleed the Serie A establishment’s nose.

By Michael Lee

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