Rudi Garcia Hire Analysis: New Napoli Boss Has a High Floor, Low Ceiling

A shocking hire out of the blue, Rudi Garcia has the unenviable task of following Luciano Spalletti as Napoli’s next manager. Before he was dumped by Cristiano Ronaldo and Al-Nassr, the manager’s recent history consists only of mediocre stints at Lyon and Marseille. So what was the Napoli brass thinking when making this lackluster hire? Well, let’s take a look.

Tactics: Rudi Garcia’s System Is a Great Fit

The Napoli front office did one thing right and selected a manager who will not have to tinker with tactics during the offseason. Over the course of his career, Rudi Garcia has shown a remarkable commitment to the 4-3-3. His brand of football closely mirrors Spalletti’s, and his best chance for success is changing as little as possible.

Like Spalletti, Garcia’s style of play is attacking-focused and involves dominating with a high percentage of possession. This is not going to be Simone Inzaghi’s Inter, sitting deep and booting the ball long to release Lautaro on a counter attack.

At Marseille, Garcia’s tactics highly emphasized play on the wings. His wingers, including Florian Thauvin, pushed the ball high and wide before looking to cut inside and play in low crosses. When out of possession, the side also employed a sporadic high press. However, this technique led to a weakened defense, as teams occasionally broke through with a numbers advantage. A lack of pace on the backline also plagued Garcia’s Marseille. In his final season with the club, it allowed 52 goals and finished with a goal differential of just + 8, despite somehow finishing in fifth place.

When Rudi Garcia moved to rivals Lyon in 2019, his attacking tactics evolved somewhat. While retaining the 4-3-3, movement in the midfield was much more dynamic, and he benefited from the presence of Memphis Depay. His side still played amply on the wings, but there was a much greater emphasis on attacking through the center. Meanwhile, Garcia also deployed fast-paced options at striker, and the team played a high rate of diagonal through-balls through the backline.

One notable difference from Spalletti’s system is how Garcia utilizes his full-backs. In the past, the French coach has kept his wide defenders more reserved, in stark contrast to Spalletti. However, with quality attacking defenders like Mario Rui and Giovanni Di Lorenzo at Napoli, look for the manager to adjust. Over the last several years, offensive full-backs have become increasingly common, even in four-man backlines, and it would be unwise for the new manager to disregard such a capability.

Another of Garcia’s focal points is his commitment to set pieces. Often brimming with creativity, his teams draw a significant number of fouls, which leads to an onslaught of set pieces. During his time in southern France, he facilitated the return of free-kick specialist Dimitri Payet, and his side managed 43 set-piece goals in 105 league matches. With Napoli’s abundance of creative wingers and strong free-kick takers like Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Matteo Politano, this tactic should gel nicely. Lastly, the creativity that Garcia desires also results in frequent penalty kicks, giving his attacking scheme yet another scoring outlet.

Even though Rudi Garcia is a 4-3-3 disciple, he often resorts a 4-2-3-1 when necessary. Though tactically similar, this second system allows for a double pivot, and it gives the team the option to operate with either a true number ten or a shadow striker. If things take a turn for the worse, Napoli fans should be on the lookout for this formation. It shores up the defensive shortcomings of the 4-3-3, but with the tradeoff of a lessened offensive output.

Rudi Garcia Has a High Floor, but a Low Ceiling

To be blunt, the chances that Napoli can hang onto its best players and challenge for another Scudetto are slim. Osimhen is almost certain to depart this offseason and star at a club that can pay him much more than the Azzurri. Additionally, center-back Kim Min-jae, the lynchpin of the backline, seems destined to leave for Bayern Munich. And while Napoli will secure a coffer of riches for selling these players, Garcia’s track record speaks for itself… and it’s not the best.

While at Marseille, Garcia impressed in his first season, taking the club to fifth just a year after it had placed 13th. To his credit, he also tends to over-perform in cup competitions. His accolades include winning the Coupe de France with Lille in 2011, finishing second in the Europa League with Marseille, and even reaching the Champions League semi-finals with Lyon in 2019.

However, despite managing several financially robust clubs, Garcia failed to elevate his performance to an elite level. He never finished better than fourth at either Marseille or Lyon, and it would be fair to say he has done little to merit the Napoli job. True, he led Roma to a second-place finish over a decade ago, and he won a Ligue 1 title with Lille in 2011. That said, his most recent appointments have been disappointing, as his performance stagnated at Lyon and Marseille, and he failed to win the Saudi league with a stacked Al-Nassr side.

Now, Garcia’s ceiling may not be the highest, but his floor is quite strong. Over two decades of coaching, the Frenchman’s winning percentage has been lower than 40% at only one stop: during his first stint as a manager in 2001. Since 2009, he has finished worse than 6th just once, and he qualifies for European competitions at a steady rate. When given enough talent, he is more than capable of being a solid manager who can turn in a few good seasons.

So, while Rudi Garcia is a natural fit for Napoli’s current crop of players, repeating as champions is far from likely under his command. However, with his penchant for attacking football and a deemphasis on defense, Azzurri games will certainly be entertaining next season.