Maurizio Sarri Exclusive: Passion Play

Football as entertainment, football as fun. Maurizio Sarri has made it clear repeatedly that those are values he holds dear to his heart. He has now settled in well at Chelsea and is enjoying it here too.

In an official Chelsea website exclusive, the boss tells us how he first came to be hooked on the game that has become his life, and picks out a few of the aspects of it he has most enjoyed. Here is what he has to say…

I love every sport.

My father was a professional cyclist so for me, when I was young, it was normal to love every sport. However I was living in a small village where all my friends played football, so I went in that direction.

At this time, the love I developed for football was more from playing the game than watching it. We are talking about the 1970s so it was really very difficult to watch the big teams on television. You maybe could watch them one time once a month in the European Cup, but at the time it was very difficult to see Serie A too.

When I was school age I would play football every day, but not only football, also basketball, volleyball. Football was the priority but in our small village we played everything.

The first time I went to watch a big football match live was with my father. The match was Fiorentina against Napoli, because my father knew very well that I was a fan of Napoli, which is where I was born. I think I was five or six and my father brought me to the stadium in Florence, near where we lived, to see Napoli.

If I am asked who my first football hero was, at the time the symbol of Napoli was Antonio Juliano. He was a midfielder and the only Neapolitan playing for Napoli.

In 1982, when the World Cup was held in Spain, Italy won it. I remember for the final I was in Sardinia and I watched the game on a big screen in the main square of the city. It was very emotional. It is one of those sporting events that stays in your mind for ever. It was not the same for me in 2006 when Italy won again, probably because I was at a different age so I was less emotional.

In the team I played in we were semi-professional, and there were five or six thousand people at our games. At the beginning is was on the right of the defence and then at centre-back but the football was absolutely different from now. It was man-marking and I had to follow a man for 90 minutes and it was a disaster!

I used to love the training. I loved being in a group and part of a team. I had a real taste for working hard and sweating. The match was more like suffering! Because of the type of football at the time. A struggle.

My job as a defender may have been to stop opponents playing but the first time I went to the pitch I wanted to have fun and so I think it is the same now, otherwise it is only work, only a job. I cannot see a reason for football without fun.

In Italy there is no doubt there is a culture of the result, but in the last few years it is changing in Italy as well, there is a tendency to play more of an entertainment game. More looking after the public is starting in Italy as well.

When it came to watching football, sometimes I went to see Napoli play in the European Cup. I remember very well Napoli against Real Madrid [in 1987] with a goal scored for Real by Emilio Butragueno. So sometimes I saw games but of course I had to play, so I was only going for the matches during the week on a Wednesday, for the European Cup.

In those days I was not studying the tactics too much. I only started to see football in another way with Arrigo Sacchi’s coaching at AC Milan. Then I started to see more the tactical part of the match.

I played until I was 33 years old. The highlight of my playing career? I liked very much the week, to stay with the team-mates and to have training, but then I remember that we played a friendly match against the Soviet Union in 1976 or 1977. They played in Florence because they were on a training camp.

I remember on the Soviet Union players’ shirts was the CCCP letters and my direct opponent was Oleg Blokhin who had won the Ballon d’Or in 1975. It was a disaster! He was very fast.

- In part two of our exclusive interview tomorrow, Sarri speaks about his move into coaching, and about his enjoyment of football in England.