Juve's Odd Couple: The Early Days of Maurizio Sarri and Cristiano Ronaldo

Dean Jones@DeanJonesBRFootball Insider at Bleacher ReportJuly 17, 2019

B/R Football

When Cristiano Ronaldo is your star player, it makes sense to understand how his brain works at the soonest possible moment. 

It was that outlook which led to Maurizio Sarri requesting a personal meeting with the Portugal international as soon as the Juventus board agreed to make him their new manager.

The former Chelsea head coach wanted to get inside Ronaldo's head: understand why he moved to Turin, listen to the things that went well (and not so well) last season and begin to visualise how he would best fit into a Juventus team that plays Sarri-ball.

It was a great early move from the boss. 

A meeting on Ronaldo's yacht on the French Riviera gave him many of the early answers he had been seeking—and allowed him to begin pre-season training with a clear vision of the future. 

Juventus sporting director Fabio Paratici was also on board, as every subject from club politics to Ronaldo's preferred position were discussed.

Sarri left that meeting knowing the 34-year-old was ready to buy into his blueprint.

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Ambition

TURIN, ITALY - JULY 13: Cristiano Ronaldo arrives at JTC on July 13, 2019 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Stefano Guidi/Getty Images )
Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

On appearance, Sarri and Ronaldo would seem to have little in common. One is a chain-smoking 60-year-old former banker; the other is one of the fittest, most successful and most stylish footballers on the planet. 

When it comes to Juventus, though, they share the same ambition.

Sarri was stung by criticism in the Premier League last season, believing he had done well to qualify for the Champions League with a fourth-placed finish.

To leave on his own terms was important, and now he is with the Italian champions, he is said to have huge desire to prove he can win the game's most important club trophy.

Winning the Champions League is also everything to Ronaldo.

Sarri's immediate priority is to focus on the steel of his new team. The addition of Matthijs de Ligt is exciting: The former Napoli boss was made aware of Juve's pursuit in early discussions and is confident he will help the Netherlands international fulfil his potential as a top-level defender.

The 19-year-old's settling-in time will be short, though, and there is a real possibility Sarri will not start him in the opening weeks—possibly even months—of the season.

           

Team style

Giovanni Martusciello has teamed up with Sarri again
Giovanni Martusciello has teamed up with Sarri againGabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

While Sarri focuses on the team's solidity, assistant manager Giovanni Martusciello is working on forward play. If you are going to win the Champions League, getting the best out of Ronaldo is high on the priority list.

Martusciello worked with Sarri at Empoli, but he was not part of his backroom team at Chelsea. He turned down the opportunity to work in England, preferring to stay at Inter Milan instead, yet he now looks forward to the challenge of guiding Juventus in their quest for European success.

Perhaps his arrival is part of the reason there is a feeling Sarri may be more flexible with his line-ups at the Allianz Stadium. 

At Napoli and Chelsea, 4-3-3 was his go-to system; but at Empoli, he was drawn towards a 4-3-1-2 system. Some sources close to Sarri suggest a diamond-like formation could be seen again.

As part of their discussions over the summer, Ronaldo has listened to Sarri's tactical plans. Insiders suggest the coach sees the former Real Madrid man as most influential from a central striking role and believes he will benefit from his style of play.

B/R Football analyst Sam Tighe said: "Ronaldo projects really well into Sarri's system as the No. 9. He's morphed into one of the deadliest poachers around, utilising incredible movement, speed and strength in the box and would thrive on the number of chances created for him.

"In the same system, Dries Mertens transformed his career, netting 20-plus goals in consecutive seasons, and Ronaldo would do even more damage than the Belgian managed."

The side will be built for Ronaldo to score goals, but the man himself still believes he can influence play as effectively from a wide role.

In the Champions League last term, seven of his nine starts came from left wing. The majority of starts in Serie A were from the flank, too.

A front line of Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Douglas Costa is one that could become the most used combination if Sarri's pieces fall into place. 

        

Expectation

TURIN, ITALY - JULY 13: Fans attend the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo and Blaise Matuidi at JTC on July 13, 2019 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Stefano Guidi/Getty Images )
Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

So what do the fans think?

Around Turin is a go-to online destination for Juve supporters across the world, with a huge social media following that guides them on every area of the club.

Founder Maurizio is excited by the new dawn under Sarri.

"Expectations have never been so high," he explains. "To be honest we had a difficult month of May: [Massimiliano] Allegri was sacked and there was a lot of uncertainty around the name of the new coach. But then Sarri was appointed and everything started to settle down nicely.

"It looks like all the players are enthusiastic and can't wait to start the new season with Sarri. He was the main reason for Napoli to battle with Juventus in the last years, before he moved to Chelsea, and his game style can definitely bring a new wave of enthusiasm around the fans and the players.

"Ronaldo exceeded my personal expectations last season. He proved to be a super-professional but was very humble at the same time. A real team member.

"He is a 'machine,' and the game against Atletico Madrid in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League is one Juventus fans will remember forever.

"The new season looks even more exciting thanks to the new coach and the new game style, which will most likely give him even more chances to score and be effective.

"For this and many other reasons, Juve fans here in Turin and around the world are impatient to start the new season."

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