He was accused by his own Napoli supporters of being a pappone (a pimp), of being cheap and ill-mannered. “De Laurentiis, we want to win!,” “Aurelio, caccia i soldi!” (spend that money!) Neapolitan people didn’t go easy on him, and hit hard one, two, multiple times their own President. There seems to always be a good excuse for that. Aurelio De Laurentiis is a thief, they say. He must leave.
Well, we don’t think so. We have a different opinion, and feel the need to defend the business choices – albeit not the manners and the behavior – of the only man left in Italy capable of creating some troubles to Juventus’ domination. De Laurentiis is the man who, 12 years ago, saw an opportunity in a disgraced Napoli team, and bought them for just 15 million euro.
Since then, Napoli has ascended from the shame of Serie C, the third tier of Italian football, to the Champions League heaven, moving over 480 positions in the FIFA club world ranking, and establishing themselves as the second force in Serie A, ahead of Inter, Milan, Roma, Lazio, and Fiorentina.
Perseverance and continuity earned the Partenopei two Italian Cups, one Super Cup, and a 308 million euro increase in revenue. That might not sound much, compared to the Bianconeri’s seven league titles in a row and their sounding purchase of Cristiano Ronaldo, yet it’s something to be proud of. Together with the fact that, as of today, Napoli are the only Serie A club based in the South of Italy.
Less than one year ago, José Guardiola labelled Napoli’s style of play as one of the most effective and entertaining in Europe. Much credit for that went to coach Maurizio Sarri – the brand-new trainer of Chelsea – but it was also due the solidity of a club which always managed to maintain their key pieces, while promptly reinvesting the earnings from their transfers into buying new players of at least the same level.
So, the question of the day is: How could Napoli improve a roster already abundant with quality, and capable of tallying 91 points during the last campionato? Well, first of all, by changing their coach. Maurizio Sarri, tempted by Chelsea’s calling, was left free to leave – not without being thanked for all he did in Napoli – and, to replace him, De Laurentiis acquired a true star among trainers: Carlo Ancelotti, the most winning coach in Europe.
Carletto’s arrival didn’t leave much room for Azzurri’s midfielder Jorginho, who asked to be sold and was eventually transferred for 62.5 million euro. Paid by who? Roman Abramovich, of course. Chelsea’s Russian President gave Sarri one of his favorite players, and delivered De Laurentiis some cash flow to secure the services of Simone Verdi (paid 25 million euro), Fabian Ruiz (30), and Alex Meret (25). Napoli could therefore start to reinforce a highly competitive, but clearly incomplete, roster.
Verdi and Fabian Ruiz look like a perfect match for Ancelotti’s football vision. The former Bayern Munich coach needs players capable of adapting themselves to multiple solutions depending on the single game. Simone Verdi can cover all positions in a three-man attacking line. Spanish Fabian Ruiz, on top of being able to cover Jorginho’s role, can also act as an offensive midfielder on both sides of the pitch.
Alex Meret, on the other hand, can cover one role only – but a very important one. He is a goalkeeper, and will need to fill Juan Manuel Reina’s big shoes. Meret is a pleasant surprise in Napoli’s transfer market campaign, as he is expected to be the starting goalie at just 21. A courageous choice, which clearly goes against the common trend in Italy, where local young players traditionally struggle to find some space.
Indeed, this is in continuity with the Partenopei’s approach of cultivating their top players internally. A strategy that produced home-grown world class players like Lorenzo Insigne, and allowed young hopes like Kalidou Koulibaly, Elseid Hysaj, and Piotr Zielinski to fully mature at the feet of Mount Vesuvius. But Napoli’s ambitions are also linked to the experience of their 30-year-old Captain Marek Hamsik, who is about to start his 10th season in Azzurro, as well as of veterans Raul Albiol, Dries Mertens, and José Maria Callejon.
This Napoli side looks promising. Their first two friendly tests, despite having small relevance both from a physical and technical point of view, showed that Sarrismo – whose lack of alternate solutions ultimately costed much to his team last season – is already being integrated by Ancelotti’s dynamism. Carletto works with a squad made of 23 players, and he is used to test new solutions to increase his rosters’ flexibility and resources.
Still, there is a long way to go for Napoli, which actually seem to be needing a right back, even more than the rumored Edinson Cavani. Did anybody say Santiago Arias?
Translated by Matteo Carnevale