Zola: Chelsea stint with enigmatic Sarri was difficult, but exceptional to see how he worked

The Blues legend returned to Stamford Bridge in 2018 alongside a fellow Italian, with one intriguing season spent in the dugout in west London

Gianfranco Zola paired up with Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea in 2018-19 and admits to having taken in another “difficult, but exceptional” season at Stamford Bridge.

The Blues moved to bring a highly-rated Italian tactician to west London from Serie A giants Napoli.

A fellow countryman, and Chelsea legend, was drafted in alongside him, with Zola returned to familiar surroundings.

Europa League glory was savoured during a campaign of highs and lows, with a top-four finish also secured in the Premier League.

Sarri was a demanding presence in the dugout before returning to his homeland at Juventus after one year in England, and Zola says he took plenty from an intriguing 12 months at the Bridge.

He told Gazzetta dello Sport: “My season with Sarri was difficult, but exceptional in a professional sense.

“It’s difficult because Sarri has a strong personality, he works very hard and has a high opinion of his own ideas.

“It wasn’t easy convincing him to use different methods when he had to deal with English football.”

‘Sarri-ball’ was embraced initially by Chelsea, but questions were asked of some tactical and selection calls along the way.

Zola was an important part of that process, having spent time playing with the Blues and coaching at Watford and West Ham, but concedes that a compatriot headed home as something of an enigma.

He added of Sarri: “It was exceptional because of the way he planned out his work, the focus on details in preparing for games and careful study of the opposition.

“All that represented an enormous learning curve for me.

“I tried to help him and his Italian staff to relate to and deal with the English culture, so that was my role.

“When he left, he didn’t thank anyone in particular, but that’s just what Sarri’s like. He is a very reserved man.”

With Sarri taking the decision to accept an offer from Juve over the summer, Chelsea passed their managerial baton to another icon – Frank Lampard.

He saw his hands tied by a transfer embargo upon his arrival, but that has since been lifted and an exciting young Blues side are now making positive progress in Premier League and Champions League competition.

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