Napoli success is down to owner’s vision

By Online Editorial


Roberto Donadoni reckons he knows nothing about football but Napoli’s owner Aurelio de Laurentis is doing something right, as his team’s meteoric rise demonstrates.

The Napoli owner de Laurentis certainly knows how to make good headlines: the movie mogul sacked his sports director Pierpaolo Marino live on TV earlier this season and this weekend, after his side came from two goals down to beat Juventus 3-2 in Turin, declared new coach Walter Mazzari as, “10 times better than Jose Mouinho”.

If you had offered a screenplay charting Napoli’s season to De Laurentis or one of his movie colleagues, it would probably be rejected as implausible. With former Italy boss Roberto Donadoni in charge, Napoli, who have risen from Serie C1 to Serie A in the last four years, only won four of 17 matches. That’s why in early-October, he was shown the door.

Donadoni did not leave amicably and he described his boss as a volcano: “He is someone who knows very little about our world,” said Donadoni. “He spends too little time living in the dressing-room atmosphere. If he were to ask me three questions about cinema I wouldn’t be able to answer them, and the same goes if I ask him about football.”

And yet De Laurentis must know something, as he not only sanctioned the purchases of Ezequiel Lavezzi from San Lorenzo for €6m (he’s now rated at €15m) and Marek Hamsik from Brescia for €5.5m (last week linked to Chelsea for €25m) but he also overlooked the claims of Delio Rossi and Roberto Mancini as Donadoni’s replacement, and appointed former Sampdoria coach Walter Mazzari. “He is the right choice for Napoli, and in fact we should have appointed him 18 months ago,” said the owner.

The early results are bearing this out. Napoli are unbeaten in their last four games, but more impressively, have shown incredible self-belief and spirit and in three of those games have scored at least once in the last minute.

In Mazzari’s first game, Napoli came from a goal down to beat Bologna 2-1 thanks to Christian Maggio’s last-minute winner; Maggio repeated the trick in a 1-0 win at Fiorentina a week later, while last week, an incredible game against AC Milan at the San Paolo ended 2-2 when Luca Cigarini and German Denis both scored in injury-time.

Then came Saturday’s astonishing turn-around: they were 2-0 down at a resurgent Juventus when Mazzari brought on Jesus Datolo, who set up Hamsik for the first and scored an equaliser before Hamsik, late on, bagged a dramatic winner. “When a coach gets a substitution right it’s because the players have responded well, that’s all,” said a modest Mazzari after the game. He left the gloating to De Laurentis.

Napoli has a run of winnable games approaching with Catania, Lazio, Parma and Bari next up. Napoli are 2.48 to win in Catania. The team has obvious deficiencies in defence – in fact, only Roma have conceded more goals than them in Serie A – but Mazzari has encouraged them to take risks going forward.

“I have found a strong side that has immediately absorbed my ideas,” said the new coach. “I like the unity of this squad. Sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot, but we believe right to the bitter end and that is the right mentality.” It remains to be seen how Mazzari’s Napoli will react to having to hold onto the lead in a game, though.

For all his faults, De Laurentis has run a club that is financially stable and his deep pockets mean that Napoli won’t be forced to sell Hamsik or Lavezzi in January. He has targeted a Europa League finish at the end of the season, which seems achievable while the teams around them continue to drop points.

One thing is sure about the rest of the season at Napoli: it won’t be dull.

Reproduced with permission from © The Sporting Exchange Limited


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