After three Champions League games, only Luciano Spalletti’s Napoli club has ever amassed more goals. Afterbeloved Fiat Panda was stolen in May of last year, Napoli’s fans put up a poster outside the stadium pledging to return the vehicle if he left the team. The failure of Napoli’s Scudetto challenge infuriated the team’s fans, who laid the blame at the feet of their manager, an experienced Serie A coach who had never won the Italian top-flight league.
Fans who demanded that Spalletti quit I Partenopei are now being forced to retract their statements when he chose to stay. Spalletti claimed that he would have only accepted the offer of having his automobile back if his CDs were in perfect condition. This season, both domestically and in Europe, Napoli is soaring. They lead Serie A, are unbeaten, and lead the league in goals scored. They have three wins out of three in Group A of the Champions League, winning by a total of 13 goals, including a 4-1 beating of Liverpool and a 6-1 battering of Ajax.
Spalletti deserves a lot of credit for Napoli’s strong start. His concentration on fast passes and attacking from wide positions, along with his caution in possession, bring out the best in a Napoli team that appeared to have lost its finest players over the summer but has since been revitalized. Despite being back in the Champions League for the first time in three years, the departures of the club’s captain Lorenzo Insigne, all-time leading scorer Dries Mertens, and totemic defender Kalidou Koulibaly in the summer sparked yet another outcry from the supporters.
But after that, there was some exceptional hiring. The dazzling Georgian attacker Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, also known by the moniker Kvaradona, has received much of attention, but remarkable scouting is also seen elsewhere. Koulibaly has not been missed at the back thanks to Kim Min-Jae, and midfielder Andre Anguissa, who was on loan from Fulham, has continued his excellent play since his contract was made permanent.
All of the new hires are compatible with Spalletti’s playing philosophy, which he has largely stuck to over his nearly 25-year coaching career in his native nation. His sole foray outside of Italy was a productive stint at Zenit St. Petersburg in Russia, where he earned his sole top-flight league championship. Given that he spoke with Roman Abramovich while he was managing Roma, there is an alternate reality in which he replaces Jose Mourinho at Chelsea. Spalletti, however, felt unprepared for the position and at the time did not speak English.
Even though he has since led some of the top Serie A teams, he hasn’t always received the best treatment. He was rehired by Roma in January 2016 after his departure from Zenit, when he was given the difficult responsibility of assisting living club legend Francesco Totti in retiring.
Inter Milan then came along, rescuing them from their slump and propelling them into the Champions League for the first time in seven years. However, after the club was taken over in the summer of 2019, the new administration decided they preferred Antonio Conte.
Shortly after receiving a new two-year contract, Spalletti was fired. He was content to kill time on his Tuscan property rather than get back into management. Before the right opportunity presented itself, Spalletti, an eccentric figure in the frequently insane world of modern football, spent lots of time with his pet duck Snow White and his huge collection of football shirts.
Napoli was the employer for that position, and this season has been a match made in heaven. They’ll try to keep up their Champions League performance when Ajax visits on Wednesday. It remains to be seen if this incredible run can continue if the first Serie A championship since Diego Maradona’s era can be won, and if an unexpected Champions League run can be made. Napoli has undoubtedly developed into one of the most exciting and dangerous teams in Europe, and their manager deserves a lot of the credit for that.
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