Assi di Coppe: Will Napoli Mutiny Mark End of Ancelotti Era?

Carlo Ancelotti’s experience as manager of Napoli may be set to end abruptly as the events following his players’ mutiny against president Aurelio De Laurentiis continue to unfold. Dark clouds gathered over the Azzurri roster last night as captain Lorenzo Insigne and his teammates refused to remain at a training retreat imposed by the club after tying 1-1 against Red Bull Salzburg in a Champions League group stage match.

Napoli’s volcanic president had ordered the notorious practice of ritiro on Monday, commanding his troops to join a training retreat until next Sunday in view of their recent poor performance, especially last weekend’s 1-2 loss at Roma. “A constructive retreat, not a punitive one,” in De Laurentiis’ words. Well, go tell the players, who know very well what ritiro means in the world of calcio: A one-week lockdown focused on extensive training, away from friends and family.

Carlo Ancelotti was the first one to express perplexities about the enforcement, surprisingly contradicting his President during a press conference as he grumbled that he didn’t agree with the decision but was going to compel with it. And well, so he did, even after the Champions League match, as he eventually made it back to the retreat headquarter hotel late in the night.

Not so did his players however, led by experienced characters like Lorenzo Insigne and Allan Marques (the so-call senators), who were perhaps expecting the retreat to be cancelled after a mildly positive performance against Red Bull Salzburg. When they realized that was not the case, they crossed their arms: “We’re going home,” Insigne reportedly said to Vice President and boss’ son Edoardo De Laurentiis in the locker room, “Go tell your dad.”    

The Partenopei swarmed back to their respective houses last night as a sorrowfully empty Napoli official bus left the San Paolo Stadium. Today, they took part in a surreal, silent practice session at the end of which they once again came back home: A sign that the ritiro, in one way or another, is cancelled and the players won the first round in a battle that looks far from concluded anyway.

While his players sulked and engaged in a cool-down post-match training, Aurelio De Laurentiis indeed prepared to counterattack from his hotel suite in Castelvolturno, surrounded by his pool of lawyers. The President’s first move was a tense conference call with Carlo Ancelotti, where the coach was allegedly reproached for having openly objected against the retreat.

At 3.00 PM today, a bitter press statement boomed from Napoli’s headquarters: “With regard to the behavior of the first-team squad on Tuesday night, the club announces that it will do everything in its power to protect its economic interests, assets, image rights and disciplinary interests.” Which is a nice way to say that Napoli are seeking to take legal actions against their own players.

The Partenopei’s management are reportedly looking at deducting up to a 5% fee from their salaries, on grounds of them having refused to compel with an order by their employer.

Concerning the training retreat, “The club would also like to make clear that it has entrusted first-team coach Carlo Ancelotti with decision-making responsibility as regards the first-team training camp.” Carletto, in other words, will now have full decisional power when it comes to the prospect of continuing the ritiro – an opportunity already clearly ruled out by the players themselves, it would seem.

The club chose the cloudy ambiguity of an ambivalent remark to apparently confirm their trust in the coach from Reggiolo, while it appears clear that his relationship with Napoli’s polarizing President has suffered a significant strain. Aurelio De Laurentiis does not like to be contradicted, least of all publicly, and for the whole afternoon insistent rumors had it that he was looking for the best solution to part ways with his trainer.

Carlo Ancelotti remained silent so far, and so did the club: “There will be no more press statements for the foreseeable future,” today’s communication concluded. Ancelotti didn’t say anything. De Laurentiis didn’t say anything. Napoli players didn’t talk either, engaging in an awkwardly mute training session today. Silence seems to be the fil rouge in the Partenopei’s current sensitive moment.

But behind the silence, it’s difficult to imagine that the power battle that led to the anti-retreat mutiny of Castelvolturno – an unprecedented event even for the whimsical world of Italian football – would not leave any mark on Napoli’s already tormented season.