Sarri’s Italian job would let Roman Abramovich save face… and cash 

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For Chelsea, if this is to be the last stand of Maurizo Sarri, the best case scenario would be to win the Europa League and lose him to Juventus.

Or Roma. Or anyone in Serie A, for that matter. What would it say of them otherwise? That here was a manager who got the team back into the Champions League via domestic placing, who reached the final of a major domestic cup, lost undeservingly on penalties, and then won a major European trophy — all in his first season in English football, at a club in a transitional state — and it still wasn’t enough?

It is hardly a secret that Roman Abramovich is a demanding employer — the £9million settlement with Antonio Conte last week takes his compensatory commitments to managers to £93m since 2004.

Roman Abramovich needs a logical parting from Maurizio Sarri to avoid reputational damage

Roman Abramovich needs a logical parting from Maurizio Sarri to avoid reputational damage

Yet even by Chelsea’s standards, were Sarri to win in Europe and then be sacked, it would be an extraordinarily harsh judgment. Rafael Benitez also left after winning the Europa League, but he was only ever the interim manager. 

Roberto Di Matteo got barely six months after winning the Champions League, but he at least had a brief opportunity to capitalise on that success.

If Sarri goes this summer we will never know if his brand of football could have led Chelsea to even greater glory, given time and a properly structured pre-season.

Abramovich’s way with managers has already cost him some of the world’s greatest coaches — Pep Guardiola is one who was put off by what he saw as the short-termism of Chelsea — yet might treating Sarri poorly see him rejected by some of those even lower down the scale?

Take Frank Lampard, for example. As a young manager, one season into his career, is it really worth risking his reputation at Stamford Bridge? 

One would imagine a European final, a domestic final and third place would be considered a brilliant first season for Lampard in the Premier League, after narrowly missing out on promotion with Derby.

Would Chelsea-linked Frank Lampard consider risking his reputation at Stamford Bridge?

Would Chelsea-linked Frank Lampard consider risking his reputation at Stamford Bridge? 

Yet if that same CV got the previous manager the sack, where has he to go? Is Lampard, or anyone, seriously expected to outwit Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp straight out of the traps? 

And almost certainly without Chelsea’s best player of recent times, Eden Hazard.

Pick an owner, not a club, was always Sir Alex Ferguson’s advice to young managers and Abramovich needs an amicable, logical parting with Sarri if reputational damage is not to occur. 

He certainly does not need another change that makes his stewardship appear unreasonable or impossible to satisfy.

Whatever unfolds in Baku on Wednesday— and Thursday, given the 11pm local kick-off time —nobody would argue Sarri’s first season has been an unqualified success. 

There is an obvious disconnect with the fans and some players — and the football has frequently been less than inspiring.

The conversion of N’Golo Kante from the best defensive screen in the world to an average midfielder is particularly puzzling, but not the only decision that has bemused. 

Once the novelty of his chain-smoking touchline presence wore off, Sarri has appeared a cold, methodical character, dogmatic in his methods, with an unwavering conviction that his brand of football is worthier than gifts an individual may possess.

If this mindset had produced the type of football his Napoli team played, there would have been less resistance.

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But Chelsea are Napoli Lite — or Napoli, low powered. Too often they possess the ball to no end. Take Hazard away and this season could have panned out very differently.

Sarri is unloved but regardless his first season with the Blues has been an unqualified success

Sarri is unloved but regardless his first season with the Blues has been an unqualified success

So, without doubt, a timely offer from Juventus or Roma would solve a lot of problems. Serie A appears a more natural habitat for Sarri and, this way, he could depart with both sides keeping honour intact.

Chelsea will have lost a manager rather than dismissed one, Sarri will have taken a more suitable job having achieved his target at Chelsea — Champions League football.

If his last game sees him lift the first major trophy of his coaching career, so much the better.

More troubling is what will happen if the opportunities in Italy do not materialise. Chelsea must then decide whether to stand by a manager who is not greatly loved, for all his achievements, and who cannot help but be weakened by the absence of Hazard next season. 

Or they sack him and push the compensation payments ever closer to nine figures.

Who can forget Abramovich’s face the night Chelsea won the Champions League? By turn delighted and thoroughly miserable, knowing that he now had no option but to offer Di Matteo the permanent position against his better judgment.

Might we see a repeat if the owner makes it to Baku and Chelsea win again? Is this not becoming the impossible job? It always seems to end in tears at Chelsea, even when it doesn’t.

Why do UEFA equate City to PSG?

There is a reason Manchester City see undercurrents of racism in the current fashion for depicting them as the worst of modern football. It all dates back to the original UEFA sanction in 2014. At the time, City went to great lengths to show the governing body the positives of their project.

The regeneration in east Manchester, the new academy, the links to the community, City were way ahead of the other club facing punishment at the time, Paris St Germain. Yet when UEFA announced their decision, the fines were identical.

It was as if they viewed all Arabs, all Arab owners, all Arab countries, all Arab businesses, as the same.

No attempt was made to distinguish between the clubs at all. It would be like viewing Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United’s business models, worth and capability as interchangeable, on the grounds their owners are all Americans.

Since when, if City have seen any rhetoric best translated as ‘all the towelheads are the same’ it has been duly noted, privately not publicly.

Manchester City see undercurrents of racism because UEFA treated them the same as PSG

Manchester City see undercurrents of racism because UEFA treated them the same as PSG 

With the recent concerted attacks on the club, City’s chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak is no longer playing nice and has made the decision to call out the worst perpetrators.

This is why he responded so forcefully to Javier Tebas, president of La Liga and the latest to link City and PSG negatively on the basis of shared ethnicity.

To say City have inflated the transfer market as if they have spent comparably to PSG’s outlay on Kylian Mbappe and Neymar is obviously wrong.

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PSG’s bid for Neymar was a game-changer. City, meanwhile, have a record signing of £60million for Riyad Mahrez and do not have the highest priced goalkeeper, defender, midfielder or forward in the Premier League — or anything like it — let alone Europe.

So while Tebas might not have intended racial bias in his words, lumping the Gulf state ownerships in together has always been an indicator.

Manchester City and PSG have football and ambition in common, but little else apart from a tendency to frighten establishment cliques.

After all, there did not seem to be much wrong with extravagant spending when Barcelona and Real Madrid were the best at it and little wrong with oil money when it sponsored Atletico Madrid.

La Liga president Javier Tebas said Manchester City and PSG have inflated the transfer market

La Liga president Javier Tebas said Manchester City and PSG have inflated the transfer market

Woodward can’t win with the Fergie factor 

The latest criticism levelled at Ed Woodward is that he has alienated Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United by failing to consult him on major policy decisions. This overlooks the first call made after Ferguson stood down — his successor — in which he was very much involved.

If, having given David Moyes a six-year contract and then sacking him before the first year was out, Woodward had announced he was returning to Ferguson for a second recommendation, it is unlikely he would have been praised for his business acumen.

What? After that last debacle? Doesn’t the man have any ideas of his own? It is not as if United have garnered universal praise, either, with a willingness to embrace the past. 

One of the criticisms of the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer — and the proposed engagement of Mike Phelan and old boys such as Rio Ferdinand on transfer committees — is that the club is too in thrall to history.

Equally, Manchester United have not operated with a director of football, even since Ferguson stood down. Transfer policy is very much within the remit of the manager. 

If Ferguson was brought in as a sounding board on the biggest calls it would make him the overseer. 

And how would that play out, given his fractious relationship with some key players? Ferguson, famously, didn’t get on with Mina Raiola, agent for several of United’s most significant signings. 

So, if Woodward went to Ferguson, and Ferguson said he wouldn’t have Raiola near the club, what would he then tell Jose Mourinho about the acquisition of Paul Pogba or Romelu Lukaku? 

It is not as simple as asking the opinion of a wise old sage. It would be an insult to ask, then ignore. But to ask and then act upon means potentially alienating the manager.

Ferguson’s retainer is to work as an ambassador, not a consultant. He is there at matches and, one imagines, offers his thoughts. Plainly, he has the ear of Solskjaer. 

But who would want to manage Manchester United with the thought Ferguson was marking his homework, vetoing his signings, providing his employers with a running commentary?

So, yes, by all means listen when the man speaks, as Ferguson would to Sir Matt Busby — no one has earned that more — but Ferguson surrendered his right to direct policy at Manchester United when he stepped down six years ago.

Sir Alex Ferguson's retainer is to work as an ambassador, not a consultant, at Man United

Sir Alex Ferguson’s retainer is to work as an ambassador, not a consultant, at Man United

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Mustafi’s logic is the real joke 

A man walks into a pub. ‘Evening, Jones the Sheepshagger,’ says the barman, cheerily. ‘What’ll it be?’ 

The man orders a beer and sits down with a heavy sigh. ‘That’s a hell of a nickname you’ve got there,’ says a stranger. ‘I’ll say,’ says the man.

He points out of the window. ‘See that library,’ he says, ‘I built that, from the ground up. Funded it. Paid for every book. Do they call me Jones the Educator? They do not. 

‘And see the hospital, nearby? This town had nothing like it until I came along. Every brick of it is mine. Do they call me Jones the Healer? They do not.

‘You f*** one sheep…’

A favourite joke, that. And I was reminded of it, reading Shkodran Mustafi bemoaning that Arsenal never receive credit for the 90 per cent of games the defence hasn’t cost them this season.

Just a gentle Ashes warning… 

England’s warm-up defeat by Australia served as a little warning about complacency this summer. After the World Cup comes the Ashes and Durham have helpfully been allowing Cameron Bancroft to find his form in English conditions.

He joins Steve Smith, Nathan Lyon, David Warner, Shaun Marsh, Usman Khawaja, James Pattinson, Joe Burns, Travis Head, Peter Handscomb, Peter Siddle and Glenn Maxwell in having played for English counties. 

Some are on their third contracts.

By contrast, Mason Crane is alone in having played a first-class game in Australian conditions. Just the one, mind. What a generous lot we are. And a trifle dim.

Cameron Bancroft has joined a strong Aussie contingent adapting to English conditions

Cameron Bancroft has joined a strong Aussie contingent adapting to English conditions

Do not underestimate the harm being done to boxing as the three best heavyweights in the world find ways to avoid meeting each other. 

Deontay Wilder’s latest title fight — if it could be called that — against Dominic Breazeale took place a 20-minute walk from my hotel in Brooklyn last week. 

You wouldn’t have known it was on.

Gill still helps Glazers cash in 

It is 13 years since the leveraged takeover of Manchester United, yet the club remains £496million in debt. 

In the last three years, £65m has been paid in shareholder dividends, mostly to the six Glazer siblings, including £22m in the last year when another director — presumed to be Ed Woodward — earned £4.152m for steering a club with the highest wage bill in the Premier League (£296m) to sixth.

How fortunate that it is former directors of Manchester United, like David Gill, who get to influence what UEFA considers financially fair and desirable in the running of football clubs.

For if some of United’s rivals got to make the rules, one imagines the outcome would be rather different.

David Gill's influence at UEFA helps Manchester United's owners avoid greater scrutiny

David Gill’s influence at UEFA helps Manchester United’s owners avoid greater scrutiny

Andy Murray has long maintained that one of the reasons British tennis finds it hard to produce champions is that life is too easy. 

From early, he says, Spanish players get by on what they can earn, while British players can stay part of a subsidised programme for much of their careers.

It is not the fault of the British tennis authorities that Katie Boulter could turn up in Paris last week, injured, and draw £20,000 in compensation for failing to play the French Open, but it hardly paints a picture of a system that rewards hard work and nothing less.

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