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The Sarri dilemma: Will Chelsea stick with boss who has won points but not fans?

  /  autty

Maurizio Sarri fears his Chelsea future is in jeopardy. He has sought assurances and received none, yet continues to do things in very much his own way.

Take this trip to Boston. Sarri must know exactly how Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich feels about the game billed as the 'Final Whistle on Hate' in Boston.

It is a matter close to the heart of Abramovich, a Russian billionaire with an Israeli passport who devised a plan with Robert Kraft, owner of New England Revolution, to help football combat anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination.

The owners have each donated more than £770,000 and Sarri's public complaints about the fixture's inconvenience went down badly. His reluctance to be involved in promotional work around the fixture will also have been noted.

He was a notable absentee as his entire squad of 23 players joined chairman Bruce Buck and staff on a visit to Boston's Holocaust Memorial on Tuesday.

It was explained away as a stomach upset. He was prescribed medication and advised by the doctor to rest, after which he was feeling better and hoped to be on the touchline for the game against the Revs in the early hours of Thursday morning, UK time.

Sarri was scheduled to speak in Boston at a press conference on Tuesday but was replaced by defenders Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso. Chelsea directors must look at the style with which Pep Guardiola fronts Manchester City or the passionate bond Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino have with fans and wonder if they might get more from their manager on this front.

Sarri does not enjoy his media duties and, despite declarations of love for his life in London, he rarely looks like a man having a good time.

There is no chemistry with the Chelsea supporters. His superstition of never stepping on to the pitch means he rarely goes over to the fans after away games and he opted out of the end-of-season lap of appreciation at Stamford Bridge.

The football in his first season has been fitful and dependent on the brilliance of Eden Hazard, although in the end-of-season reckoning Chelsea have reached two cup finals and finished third.

Qualifying for the Champions League was Sarri's minimum requirement and he has fulfilled it. The Europa League, a 16th major trophy of the Abramovich era, would be a terrific bonus. Still, Italian newspapers have been running stories for weeks linking him to Roma, AC Milan and Juventus.

A report on Wednesday claimed he would be sacked after the Europa League final in Baku regardless of the result and cited, among other reasons, his attitude towards the Boston game.

There are echoes here of last year, with Chelsea heading into an FA Cup final with tension around the position of Antonio Conte.

As with Conte, who remains locked in a legal row with the club over his dismissal, there is a theory that Sarri would not mind if he were sacked, paid up and allowed to return to Italy. As always, Chelsea refused to comment on the manager's future.

Sarri's position has been in doubt for some time but the feeling has been developing in recent weeks that the 60-year-old might still be in charge at the start of next season.

This seemed highly unlikely when his team suffered mid-season thrashings at Bournemouth and Manchester City. Chelsea were beaten at home by Manchester United in the FA Cup and fans turned against the manager.

Then they lost on penalties in the Carabao Cup final when Sarri became embroiled in a very public dispute with goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, who refused to be substituted.

There was a time when Chelsea were sounding out interim managers but the mood shifted with an upturn in fortunes on the pitch and the two-window transfer ban imposed by FIFA in late February for offences relating to the recruitment of minors.

The ban has been appealed and the case is waiting to be heard at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Chelsea could fight to suspend any punishment until the legal process has been exhausted, with a reasonable chance of this giving them the summer transfer window to invest and prepare for the ban.

An alternative school of thought, gathering favour inside the club, is to accept the ban if it is ratified by CAS and let Sarri negotiate the next 12 months without new signings.

There are an army of Chelsea players out on loan and Sarri said he had identified three youngsters who might be ready to step into his squad, thought to be Reece James, 19, Mason Mount, 20, and Tammy Abraham, 21, who spent the season at Championship clubs. Michy Batshuayi and Kurt Zouma are other loanees who have played in the Premier League this season.

Sarri would take a closer look at them during a pre-season which will include a closed training camp in Europe, at the manager's request, and two games in Japan to satisfy commercial interests.

One of Sarri's attributes which appealed to Chelsea was his reputation for developing players. In many ways, he would be the perfect fall guy to guide them through such difficulties.

Then next summer, if he has still not convinced his bosses, they can let him go at the end of his contract and the transfer market will be open for his replacement. Which way Chelsea jump on the transfer ban will be a major factor in the manager's future.

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