New Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri presents himself as the anti-Antonio Conte
Maurizio Sarri was unveiled as Chelsea's new head coach at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, less than a week after replacing the sacked Antonio Conte on a three-year contract.
He flew with the squad to Australia later in the day to begin preparations for the Blues' first preseason friendly against Perth Glory on Monday, but how did he perform in front of the assembled British and international media?
Sarri strode confidently into Stamford Bridge's Drake Suite shortly after 2:00 p.m. in London and smiled warmly as he held up a personalised Chelsea shirt in front of a smaller crowd of journalists than turned out for Conte's arrival two years ago -- more a reflection on the timing of this news conference, three days after the World Cup final, than on either coach.
He briefly addressed the media in English to apologise for the fact that much of the rest of the news conference would be conducted in his native Italian. In truth, his command of the English language is better than Conte's was at the same stage in 2016, but his confidence in it is clearly lacking.
Looking sharp in a tailored suit, the clean-shaven and bespectacled Sarri lived up to the fashionable standard of Italian managers in the Premier League that Carlo Ancelotti and Conte maintained at their Stamford Bridge unveilings.
What he said
Consciously or not, Sarri established himself as the ideological opposite to Conte throughout, returning to his central belief that football should be "fun" every bit as often as his predecessor referenced "work" in his first Stamford Bridge media address.
"My goal is to have fun as long as I am here and be competitive in all competitions until the end," he said.
"Ours is not a sport but a game, and anybody who plays a game starts doing that when they're young. It is fun. The child in each of us must be nurtured because this often makes us the best.
"I think if a team has fun often, the fans do too. This is very important, and then there are the high-level objectives, but we must start by having fun. This is important for us and our fans."
Asked if "fun" wins trophies, he replied with a smile: "Sometimes yes, sometimes not. But I think it is better to enjoy."
Sarri did, however, bristle slightly when he was reminded that he has yet to win major silverware in his 13-year coaching career, responding with a compelling defence of his record at Napoli.
"It is true I haven't won anything, but I have been in Serie A five years, and [I] think apart from Juventus, nobody has won anything," he pointed out. "For three years in a row [at Napoli], we had record points. In the first year, 81 points, 82 was another record and 91 was as well.
"I think that we worked very well, and the difference in working well and winning is often minimal. I hope I will be able to fill in this gap with this club, the difference between doing well and winning."
Perhaps most importantly in light of the internal conflicts that made Conte's position untenable, Sarri reiterated his long-held conviction that he is a coach, not a manager when it comes to transfers.
"I think I am one of the few managers who is bored by the transfer market," he said. "I don't want to talk about it. I am not that interested in it. I think our task as managers is about growing the players we have."
Sarri also expressed regret about the homophobic and sexist comments he made while Napoli coach, well aware that a repeat will not be tolerated at Chelsea.
"These were mistakes, that is for sure," he said. "I think that those who know me very well cannot define me in this way -- not homophobic or sexist or racist, absolutely not. I am an extremely open person, and I do not have these kinds of problems, and I hope to show this when I work here and live here."
How he handled the media
Sarri's answers, relayed via a translator, were thoughtful and comprehensive on all subjects. He did not attempt to evade anything, even when asked to revisit the insensitive comments that marred his time in Italy, and calmly laid out his football philosophy in front of Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia and chairman Bruce Buck, who were both seated in the front row.
"Ours is not a sport but a game, and anybody who plays a game starts doing that when they're young. It is fun. The child in each of us must be nurtured because this often makes us the best." -- Sarri's response when asked what he hopes to bring to Chelsea.
Differences from Conte
Where to start? Judging by his words here, Sarri wants his Chelsea players to enjoy every minute of life under him, while Conte set the tone for a brutal preseason grind and the relentless intensity that laid the foundation for a Premier League title win but eventually wore down his squad, physically and emotionally.
Sarri was keen to emphasise the relative triviality of football as a game to be enjoyed, rather than the "little war machine" that Conte sought to recreate at Chelsea after leaving the Italy national side.
It's fair to assume that Granovskaia and Buck, who grew deeply exasperated with Conte's uncompromising approach to transfer discussions, will have been particularly pleased to hear Sarri publicly repeat his disdain for recruitment.
Room for improvement
Sarri knows he can't continue to conduct news conferences in Italian. Chelsea were forced to clarify a couple of significant mistranslations that left his comments open to misinterpretation. He is already having regular English lessons and hopes to be confident enough in his skills to change his approach during preseason.
8 out of 10: Sarri was as advertised, a football philosopher pledging to bring his unique brand of fun to Stamford Bridge. Time is short to implement his ideas in a summer schedule that yields precious little training time, but if he can impose his vision and get Chelsea's players to buy in, supporters will be in for a thrilling ride.