Chelsea: Daniele Rugani chose growth over reuniting with Sarri – still does

TURIN, ITALY - MARCH 30: Daniele Rugani of Juventus in action during the Serie A match between Juventus and Empoli at Allianz Stadium on March 30, 2019 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images)
TURIN, ITALY - MARCH 30: Daniele Rugani of Juventus in action during the Serie A match between Juventus and Empoli at Allianz Stadium on March 30, 2019 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images) /

Daniele Rugani is a true rarity in football: a player whom, in his teenage years, Maurizio Sarri regularly played in the league XI. Rugani apparently recognizes those two seasons five years ago were all Sarri had to offer his career.

Daniele Rugani was one of the players Maurizio Sarri wanted from his previously clubs to join Chelsea last season. After paying £57 million for Jorginho, the Blues lacked either the money or inclination to buy any of Rugani, Elseid Hysaj, Dries Mertens, Kalidou Koulibaly or a few other Empoli and Napoli alumni. The failed Gonzalo Higuain half-season experiment reinforced Chelsea’s inclination to pass on any more of Sarri’s recommendations, had he stayed, which he didn’t, because he broke his contract to take what he considered to be a more prestigious job after only one year at Stamford Bridge.

Rugani’s agent, however, is putting the credit for the decision not to reunite with Sarri on the young defender’s shoulders. Amid rumours of a transfer to Arsenal, Davide Torchia said “Last year the decision to say no to Chelsea was also ours, of Daniele and therefore mine as a result.”

More telling, later in the same interview he said:

"He knows what the coach wants from him and what he wants in general. However, on the other hand, a player like Daniele must have the desire and the duty to get more and more. – Express"

This is partly a reference to the depth chart at Juventus, as Torchia referenced Juventus’ five defenders and not wanting to be the “player who plays once year in the Italian Cup,” that is, the Italian Danny Drinkwater.

However, Torchia is also speaking to something that is very obvious to anyone who watched Chelsea last season, or Napoli in the previous three, or Empoli in Rugani’s final years there. The developmental ceiling is very low under Maurizio Sarri. If Sarri chooses to play you – and that’s a Higuain-sized if – you know within a few weeks of training exactly what it is you are going to do. Chelsea mastered their circuits by mid-September, and the club stayed on that tactical plateau for the remainder of the season. Which means the players stayed on individual plateaus as well.

Rugani knows this because he reached that point with Sarri back in 2014/15. He then transferred to Juventus where he started learning a variety of systems and organizations under Massimiliano Allegri. The comfort that someone like Gonzalo Higuain gets from returning to a very familiar, very comfortable system is a complete turn-off to a young player knowing that further development is the only way he will improve, make more money, win more trophies and stay within the rarefied level of top clubs.

And, no, this is not a personal knock on Higuain. He is an older player whose physical limitations are catching up with him. He would certainly enjoy more trophies, but few have eluded him so far. Circuit-based play like Sarri’s works particularly well for players in his position, as does the comfort of old dogs not having to take on new tricks.

Daniele Rugani, like Jorginho and Higuain, was a well-known quantity for Maurizio Sarri, and this is why Sarri wanted him at Chelsea. Likewise, Sarri was a well-known quantity for Daniele Rugani, and that is why Rugani did not want to follow Sarri to Chelsea and is now eyeing a move to one of the runner-up clubs of London.

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Davide Torchia’s comments echo Jorginho’s earlier in the week, which in turn echo everything our loyal readers have been absorbing since May 2018. None of this should be a surprise, so just enjoy the quiet validation.