Maurizio Sarri faces an uncertain future as Chelsea manager even if the much-maligned Italian leads his side to victory in the Europa League final against Arsenal.
Sarri has endured a traumatic first season at Stamford Bridge and he heads to Baku with little clarity over his prospects of staying in charge beyond Wednesday’s final.
Despite guiding Chelsea into next season’s Champions League, via a third-place finish in the Premier League, and reaching two cup finals, there remains a sense Sarri is on borrowed time whatever the result against Arsenal.
The 60-year-old has been linked with a move to Juventus or Roma, with reports saying Chelsea would not block his return to Serie A.
Even if Sarri does not join the Italian champions, he could still be sacked if Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and his coterie of advisors feel the former Napoli boss is not the man to guide them through a turbulent period.
With a damaging two-window transfer ban looming – pending an appeal by Chelsea to the Court of Arbitration for Sport – and star winger Eden Hazard set to get his wish to join Real Madrid, the next year promises to be a challenging spell for any manager, let alone one with the baggage Sarri has collected in his brief reign.
Sarri insists he is happy to stay, but admits there will be no talks over his future until after the final.
“I’m very happy to stay in the Premier League. I will speak to the club as I want to see if they are happy with me or not,” he said. “We had a good season, with a lot of problems of course. We lost two or three matches very badly. If we are able to win the final then it will become a wonderful season. This group deserves to continue and to try to improve more.”
It is believed Chelsea’s senior decision-makers, including director Marina Granovskaia, will gauge the feelings of players before making a final decision on Sarri.
There are concerns that his methods have caused so much unrest within the squad he may not be able to fully command their respect.
That problem was laid bare by Kepa Arrizabalaga’s astonishing mutiny during the League Cup final when the Chelsea goalkeeper refused to be substituted after suffering cramp before the penalty shoot-out defeat against Manchester City.
Sarri had already publicly criticised his players after a series of bad results in January. His outburst came after reports some of the Chelsea squad held doubts about his rigid tactical approach, while many were said to find his training sessions monotonous.
Sticking with his former Napoli players Jorginho and Gonzalo Higuain despite their mediocre performances did little to erase Sarri’s stubborn image.
Adamant his style can still work with Chelsea, Sarri this week said: “In the last two years Manchester City won everything in England.
“The way of football of City is not the same as mine, but similar. I think we can play my football also in England.”
Sarri’s decision to exile club captain Gary Cahill also apparently angered players, with the defender accusing his manager of a “lack of respect”.
Chelsea sought counsel from their stars before Jose Mourinho was sacked in 2015, with then technical director Michael Emenalo citing a “palpable discord between manager and players”.
Sarri’s cause is not helped by his toxic relationship with the club’s fans, who ridiculed his football philosophy several times.
Rafael Benitez was allowed to leave his role as Chelsea’s interim boss in 2013 despite finishing third and winning the Europa League, in large part because he was so disliked by Blues supporters.
“I think for the fans we have to play better, we have win more, there isn’t another way,” Sarri conceded.
Given the way Manchester United collapsed during their own discordant campaign, Sarri deserves credit for keeping Chelsea from completely imploding.
But, with Massimiliano Allegri linked with Chelsea after leaving Juventus, there is a potential replacement waiting in the wings as Sarri tries to finish his troubled season on a high note.