How Did Gennaro Gattuso Succeed in Resurrecting Napoli

After an unexpectedly over-dramatic Carlo Ancelotti stint, the appointment of Gennaro Gattuso as Napoli manager was initially perceived as a stop-gap decision, at least until the club would find a suitable replacement in the summer. However, the 2006 world champion defied all odds, as he successfully managed to steer the Partenopei back into the top 4 positions in the league table, while his unique personality is looking like a perfect match for the always heated environment at Napoli. 

So what are the main reasons behind Napoli’s resurgence under Gennaro Gattuso? 

Managing to Put an End to the Napoli Civil War

The last days of Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli tenure were marred by a civil war between the Partenopei players – led by captain Lorenzo Insigne – and the administration with fiery president Aurelio De Laurentiis at the helm, which ended up with the players walking out of a training camp (which was enforced by the management after a series of poor results) and that incident became known as “The Mutiny.”

Although Ancelotti tried his best to avoid siding with either camp, he ended up being the sacrificial lamb, with both sides unsatisfied with his position on the matters – plus the poor run that led to the crisis was perceived as the veteran tactician’s fault. 

To replace the former Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Bayen Munich manager, Napoli decided to bring in his former Milan pupil, Gennaro Gattuso. But how would a young coach succeed where one of the most accomplished managers in football history had failed? 

With his straightforward personality and sincere nature, the players immediately found a person that they can relate to, and a man who is still young enough to be able to understand the mentality of modern footballers. 

The key for Ringhio was building a strong bond with captain Insigne, one that could be seen whenever the Neapolitan native decided to celebrate a goal by running straight in the direction of his new manager. This approach was never witnessed during the Ancelotti days, as everyone around the San Paolo stadium knew of the frosty relationship between the captain and the former coach. 

Gattuso was able to rediscover the best form of other players, including Elseid Hysaj. The versatile Albanian was considered as one of the best full-backs in Italy during Maurizio Sarri’s reign, but was suddenly cast away from the starting line-up with Ancelotti. It’s also worth mentioning that the Calabrian’s patience with Hirving Lozano has finally paid off, as the Mexican is beginning to hit his stride at Napoli. 

On the other hand, and despite his likeable persona, Gennaro never hesitated to call out the players which he felt that they aren’t working hard enough. As a man who was willing to die on the pitch for his beloved Milan jersey as well as for the Italian national team, Gattuso expected the same type of dedication from his Napoli players. 

Brazilian midfielder Allan, who was previously deemed as the club’s engine in the middle of the park, was somewhat exiled from his side for his lack of effort during his last year at the club, and was eventually allowed to follow Ancelotti towards Everton. 

With other several incidents where certain Napoli players were left behind for a match-day or two for failing to train properly, Gennaro Gattuso was able to win over the Napoli locker-room, thanks to his rough but fair approach, as well as having the full backing of the club president, especially with the results gradually improving since his appointment. 

Gattuso Proving to Be an Underrated Tactician 

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. And this saying hits home perfectly when it comes to Gennaro. With his incredibly fiery and over-hyped personality, the former Milan legend had always been beloved by his teammates and fans for his unbelievable work rate and infinite dedication to the team’s cause. However, his technical abilities as a player were the target of many jokes in his playing days. 

Nonetheless, Gattuso’s lack of an efficient technical skill set shouldn’t be confused with his tactical abilities. Being fully aware of his technical limitations is actually the first sign of the former Rangers man’s tactical understanding, as he most often preferred to play the simple and basic pass to his more gifted teammates – especially Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf, and Kaka. 

So, despite being perceived as a hot-head, Gattuso had always been a smart enough player – even if it couldn’t be noticed to the naked eye – and his tactical awareness had only been growing with every managerial experience so far. 

Whilst Carlo Ancelotti was brought to Napoli to take the club to the next level, in his first season he failed to cause any trouble to Ronaldo’s Juventus despite ending the season in second place. And things only got worse during his second season, as his shift to 4-2-4 – in order to include Insigne, Dries Mertens, Jose Callejon, and Arkadiusz Milik all in one formation – proved to be a tactical misstep. 

The Partenopei squad inherited by Ancelotti was specifically built by Maurizio Sarri to play 4-3-3 – despite the departures of Jorginho and Marek Hamsik – and thus the move to 4-2-4 caused a certain unbalance in the side, as well hurting the performances of several key players, especially Insigne who was asked to track back far more than he’d like in his left winger role. 

Thus, shifting the team back to 4-3-3 straight away doesn’t exactly rank as a genius tactical coup for Gattuso, but nonetheless, the young manager should be lauded for making the obvious and reasonable call, which eventually led to better results on the pitch. 

And this season, with new signings at Napoli like Victor Osimhen, Andrea Petagna and Tiémoué Bakayoko, Gattuso has been able to prove his tactical versatility by switching between 4-3-3 and his potentially favorite formation 4-2-3-1, while also fixing the defense which was leaking goals during most of last season. 

Gennaro Gattuso is proving to be a better fit than Carlo Ancelotti at Napoli

The Right Southern Manager at the Right Southern Club

Napoli, to say the least, is no ordinary team. The club who will forever be associated with a certain Diego Armando Maradona, is now considered as the rightful representative of the South of Italy. While Inter have recently adopted the motto “Not for everyone,” it is at the Azzurri where these words ring true, especially when it comes to managers, as the Neapolitan crowds would either fall in love with the coach, or have a cold distant relationship with him. 

In the De Laurentiis era, former manager Eduardo Reja – despite his northern roots – was able to win over the Partenopei fans with his humble and hardworking approach, while Walter Mazzarri took the club to the next level with his fiery and enthusiastic character. 

And then Maurizio Sarri – prior to his appointment at Juventus – was perhaps the most beloved manager at Napoli with his unfamiliar background and political views earning him the nickname “ll Comandante“. On the other hand, the ever so quiet Carlo Ancelotti, despite his winning pedigree, was never seen as the right fit for the hot southern city, and thus the fans never truly fell in love with his character. 

So while the personality element is often neglected in favor of other components, the Gattuso “southern heat” might just be the X-Factor that makes him the perfect fit for a Napoli side with some very high ambitious.