Maurizio Sarri was never compatible with Juventus' Ronaldo experiment
It was doomed from the start
"If Juve can win with me, we must be good!" Maurizio Sarri joked after winning his first ever league title just two weeks ago. It was a self-deprecating gag that revealed something deeper, a genuine insecurity about his place among the footballing elite. He knew deep down that he never really had the pedigree to manage Italy's biggest club, and soon enough they realised that too. On August 8th, Juventus relieved Sarri of his duties following a disappointing second round Champions League exit to Lyon.
Sarri is a curious case of a manager. In a sense, he accidentally stumbled to the top of the game having spent 25 years in the lower divisions and the world of banking. Napoli took a punt on him after a successful spell with Empoli, and his subsequent success, playing a modern en-vogue brand of football, piqued the interest of Chelsea, and then Juventus. And it was easy to see why. The football Napoli played was scintillating. From back to front, every player bought into his ideas and they became arguably the most entertaining team on the continent. But Sarri suited Napoli. They are a club who thrives on being the underdog, fighting against the northern elite, and Sarri's fairytale rise suited that narrative and helped to foster a siege mentality.
The same cannot be said for Juventus, a club so bored of their own domestic domination that they sacked Max Allegri after he won five consecutive league titles. That's the problem with being one of football's super clubs - your Bayerns, your Barças, etc. - domestic glory is not enough. That's the minimum requirement for a contract extension. Failure to win the Champions League, or at least get to the final, is viewed as a failure. They are chasing an elusive high, and until they get it, they will never be satisfied.
But there is another element to why Sarri and Juventus were a doomed marriage from the start: Cristiano Ronaldo.
Signing Ronaldo was meant to be the catalyst for European glory. The player who had lifted the trophy four times in five years and always turned up when it mattered most for Real Madrid carried the hopes of Turin on his shoulders. And maybe he could have done that, under a different manager.
To get the best out of a 35-year-old Ronaldo, a team must play a certain way. He must be the focus of the attack, and he will not do a lot of work off the ball. That's the deal when you have him. What he lacks in off the ball intensity, he will make up for with big, match-winning moments. Zinedine Zidane managed the superstar superbly at Madrid, but Sarri never had the same tactical flexibility or the command of respect. There is perhaps no better example of this than Ronaldo's facial expressions in this viral clip of Sarri giving him tactical instruction.
Sarri is famously wedded to his ideals and will not adapt them to accommodate a superstar player. Ronaldo has won it all and will not change the way he plays for the sake of a manager whose only career trophy prior to this season was a Europa League with Chelsea. These are the main reasons behind Juventus' stodgy football this season. They wanted to be two things at once, but they were never compatible.
Out of desperation for a Champions League trophy, Juventus took two risks. The first, signing an expensive, ageing, but still incredibly effective forward. The second, hiring a manager who might add a sprinkling of style to their substance, but whose ideals are in complete contrast to Ronaldo's. They were never going to come off simultaneously, and as is the way in modern football, the coach has taken the fall.