Paddy Agnew on Maurizio Sarri's unlikely path to the top of the Italian game

The Napoli manager was still working in a bank before becoming a coach at the age of 40

BY Jason Brennan 18:03 Tuesday 13 February 2018, 18:03 13 Feb 2018

Napoli's coach Maurizio Sarri during a Serie A soccer match between Napoli and Sassuolo, at the San Paolo stadium in Naples, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Salvatore Laporta)

Most people have a hobby outside of their day-to-day work life. Something to take their mind off the trials and tribulations of the work week, an outlet to bring some sense of peace or calm to a hectic daily schedule. Maurizio Sarri was no different than the rest of us, it's just most people don't rise to the zenith of the professional ranks in our chosen pastime.

Having worked in a bank until the spritely age of 40, the current Napoli manager decided to make a go of managing football full time, a decision which has paid massive dividends. The Irish Times' Italian correspondent Paddy Agnew joined Off The Ball on Monday night to talk about the man who traded finance for football, and has lead Napoli to the top of Serie A as they look to stop Juventus from winning a seventh successive league title.

"He was working in a bank still at 40, but he had at that stage coached six amateur teams, and what he used to say was 'the bank was a piece of paper, it was a safe job. His actual job was handling inter-bank currency exchanges, but then when the Euro came in in 1999 he found himself a little less in demand and he thought to himself, 'well I'll give the football a go' ".

Up until that point Sarri had managed six amateur sides, and in Agnew's words, the Napoli coach has since admitted that 'a lot of my bank experience was basically being fed up, hanging around at work just waiting to knock off at five in the evening and head off to team training'.

His route to Naples was not a short one however, as Sarri traversed decades in the lower leagues before finally getting the unlikely call from Aurelio De Laurentiis to manage the side from the city of his birth, a story that is shaping a likeable narrative as the season draws to a close.

"When you look at Napoli one of the folklore aspects of it at the moment is this guy Sarri. This is a guy who was still working in a bank at the age of 40. He's been a coach for 25 years, at 17 different clubs before he got the Napoli job, and only one of those seasons was he in Serie A and that was with Empoli".

"When De Laurentiis, the owner of Napoli, called him up and offered him the job he thought he was the victim of a practical joke". 

After maintaining form throughout the season, Napoli currently sit one point ahead of Juventus, and while they may have faltered in this position before, it appears this current iteration of players are made of stronger metal than the sides of seasons past. Having conceded to third place Lazio within three minutes during the clash at the weekend, Napoli roared back comprehensively beat the Rome side 4-1, a result Agnew points to as a reason why they can go on to claim this season's championship.

"This is not what's happened before. You have the sensation that it's much more serious. It reminds me just a little bit of 1987, the year they won their first title with Maradona. There was a sense that it was happening for them a long way off, and I had that sense on Saturday night".

"All of the ingredients were there for them to fall on their face, but they didn't. Not only did they not fall on their face, but they did not fall on their face against one of the best clubs at the moment in Serie A. Lazio are not third by accident, they're playing some very good football".

Agnew praised Sarri's performance since taking charge in 2015, and noted his brand of attractive football is not a new occurrence, it's a style that pre-dates his time working with top talent.

"His Empoli, that one season in the Serie A, 2014/2015 season, played some very good football. It was a younger side, bit limited. No big names, but they played terrific football. Smaller sides in the Serie A often, when they play the bigger teams, they basically shut up shop and line up around the penalty area and try to limit the damages, but he didn't do that".

Sarri has continued that philosophy at Napoli, packing the side with more diminutive but skillful players, a way of playing his attributes to his late grandfather according to Agnew.

"He's fond of quoting his grandad, and his grandad liked to say to him 'we're here to play football, not to unload a lorry. So I don't need big hefty fellas actually, I want guys who can play with the ball'. It's not for nothing that he has these three little men up front in Callejon, Mertens, and Insigne who are three terrific footballers but guys who are knee-high to a grasshopper. He sticks with them, and he sticks with them because he believes in that type of football".  

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