Chelsea closer to recruiting Maurizio Sarri – and Gianfranco Zola too

Chelsea are closing in on Maurizio Sarri, with former player Gianfranco Zola likely to join his backroom team.

Maurizio Sarri is growing increasingly confident agreement will be reached between Chelsea and Napoli to smooth his appointment as head coach at Stamford Bridge, with the Italian likely to be joined by his compatriot Gianfranco Zola in some capacity at the club.

Chelsea’s managerial situation has effectively been in limbo for almost a month, with Napoli having opted against releasing Sarri from his contract despite appointing Carlo Ancelotti as his successor, and Antonio Conte, the incumbent at the Premier League club, in the dark over his future.

A £7m buyout clause in Sarri’s contract has expired, with the Napoli president, Aurelio de Laurentiis, to negotiate the terms of his manager’s release with any prospective employer.

De Laurentiis has indicated publicly a willingness to enter into talks with Sarri’s suitors, with suggestions in Italy he would be prepared to drop his compensation demand – previously considered prohibitive – to closer to £3.5m. That could still be considered too much by Chelsea, who had hoped Sarri’s lawyers might secure the 59-year-old’s release, but it is understood there is optimism on all sides that an agreement of sorts can be reached.

“If [Chelsea open talks] I would sit politely and listen, reflect and then give the response that was best for Napoli,” De Laurentiis told Corriere dello Sport. “I want to make one thing clear: this is not a club to be pillaged, this is not a club to be underestimated. I am here to discuss and have already said that, if called, I would be reasonable.”

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Chelsea will have to pay Conte up to £9m in compensation to cover the last year of his contract, as well as pay-offs for members of his backroom staff, when they formally dismiss their head coach of two years. There had been some hope the Italian might secure another job, with the position at Real Madrid having been touted, and achieve a mutual agreement over his departure, but it seems more likely now that he will take a sabbatical and collect his pay-off.

Regardless, Sarri is believed to be increasingly confident he will secure his move to London and will lean on the hugely popular Zola, who played more than 300 games for Chelsea and has been voted the club’s best ever player by supporters, to help his transition into the English game. Zola has managed West Ham United and Watford, as well as Cagliari and Italy’s junior sides, but has been out of work since leaving Birmingham City in 2017.

The 51-year-old could join Sarri’s coaching staff, but may even be considered a replacement for Michael Emenalo as sporting director. Regardless, the new head coach could lean on Zola’s English, as well as his extensive experience with the Premier League, through his early weeks at his new club.

There have been claims in Italy that Sarri would be accompanied by Giovanni Martusciello as his assistant, and add Marco Ianni, Davide Losi, Massimo Nenci and Davide Ranzato to his staff. The fitness coach Paolo Bertelli and the goalkeeper coach Gianluca Spinelli could remain from the Conte era.