Spalletti knew Napoli could not follow Scudetto success
Even if Luciano Spalletti had stayed, Napoli would still have struggled badly after their unexpected...
Even if Luciano Spalletti had stayed, Napoli would still have struggled badly after their unexpected Scudetto success, argues Susy Campanale.
There is a reason Luciano Spalletti left Napoli after that triumphant march to the Scudetto and we are seeing it unfold right now, first under Rudi Garcia and then Walter Mazzarri. Quite simply, he knew everything fell into place during that one magical campaign and it would inevitably be all downhill from there.
Spalletti said as much during his interviews to describe his decision, saying he had “given everything I have” and was “running on empty,” which was all code for ‘it is not going to get any better than this, so bow out at the top.’
This is why it seems strange to me that so many people are blaming Aurelio De Laurentiis for destroying a perfect unit in just six short months. The President makes plenty of mistakes, and publicly trying to take most of the credit for the title success as well as disparagingly mentioning those who had left like Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens was every bit as bad as appointing Garcia to take over from Spalletti. However, in this case, I don’t see what more he could’ve done to prevent the slide.
The biggest fear was that De Laurentiis would dismantle the entire squad by selling his breakthrough stars for a huge profit, but the only departure was Kim Min-jae, who already had a release clause set in his contract. Resisting offers for Victor Osimhen and Kvicha Kvaratskhelia is to be lauded, because the Georgian’s price-tag has surely dropped now that opposition defenders have figured out his only trick is to cut inside and shoot with the right foot. I am yet to understand why coaches don’t sit Kvara down and explain to him he is two-footed, a rare skill, so he can vary the type of runs when taking players on. He could be unstoppable, but always makes the same moves.
Kvaratskhelia is a perfect example of why Napoli were doomed to a season of disappointment after the high of that Scudetto success. He exploded onto the Serie A scene, practically unknown before then, making a huge impact, but it was never going to last at that level. The trouble with Italian football is that in such a tactical league, the most talented stars are studied carefully with plans to neutralise them worked up. Osimhen too is not as effective now because of the doubling up in marking, and his oddly poor injury record. This was all inevitable and entirely predictable.
Had Spalletti remained in situ, I am convinced Napoli would be having if not exactly the same kind of results, then at least not far off. It would’ve still been a struggle to reach the top four, because last season everything fell into place for them. Now let’s be clear, I am not at all suggesting the Scudetto was a fluke, but when a club has not won for over 30 years and is packed with players who have never won anything, that success is not sustainable. It is not quite at the level of Leicester City winning the Premier League, but let us not forget this club had only ever achieved this kind of silverware with Diego Armando Maradona in the squad.
Similarly to that Leicester campaign under Claudio Ranieri, it felt like all the stars were aligning for Napoli and that includes the chasing pack taking turns to trip over each other, leaving them with an unassailable lead. They were already starting to fizzle out in the final couple of months, as seen by the Champions League quarter-final exit to Milan and the fact Kvaratskhelia scored his last goal in March.
So while it is easy to blame Garcia and Mazzarri, or De Laurentiis, for the collapse in standards, it was always going to be a rough campaign for Napoli. Nothing that followed that Scudetto was ever going to live up to that moment of glory and this is proving to be a really painful title hangover. Spalletti knew that and was very wise indeed to back out at the right time.