Chelsea must give Maurizio Sarri 'freedom' to manage - Gianfranco Zola

Gianfranco Zola said he hopes Chelsea give Maurizio Sarri the freedom to do his job should he succeed Antonio Conte at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea have been attempting to extricate Sarri from his contractual obligation to Napoli for more than a month, and Conte -- who is refusing to leave without the final year of his deal being paid in full -- is prepared to begin preseason training at Cobham on Monday unless he is sacked before then.

Zola has held talks with Chelsea about returning to his old club either as Sarri's assistant or in a technical role, and he is backing the 59-year-old to make a big impact at Stamford Bridge provided he is given the conditions to do so.

"It has to be said that Conte has done an impressive job at Chelsea," Zola told Calciomercato.

"I would hope that, should Sarri move to London, they will let him do his job, which means planning and organisation leading to constant improvement in the players.

"I hope he can achieve the same results as previously; it's certainly a very different challenge and a different situation compared to where he's been before, but one with lots of advantages. We're talking about an exceptionally quality coach, who will have the chance of doing a great job."

Zola revealed he has admired Sarri's work for several years, dating back to his achievement in getting Empoli promoted to Serie A and keeping them up.

"I've been following Maurizio for a long time, since I was at Cagliari and I was analysing clubs on the same level and one club that I had a particular fondness of was his Empoli," he added.

"I liked Empoli because their attidude was rarely seen in a club fighting for those parts of the league table; they were playing as if they were a big club, always looking to take the initiative on the pitch. Sarri's ability became more evident to all when he moved to Napoli. He is good: the results speak for themselves.

"Anyone who loves football cannot help but fall in love with the way Napoli have been playing these years."

Sarri would face a formidable task to return Chelsea to contention at the top of the Premier League; Manchester City won the title in record-breaking fashion last season and all of the other members of the league's big six have invested to improve their squads this summer. Zola, however, is optimistic.

"Manchester City are favourites but in the Premier League there are no guarantees; it's not that because City won the league last year they are more likely to win it again this year," he insisted.

"It's a very competitive league, between United who'll invest a lot, Chelsea themselves, the always improving Tottenham, Arsenal... it's a very lively league and very open to other clubs. City won't dominate the way they dominated this past year, I'm almost certain about that."