WTF happened to Napoli?

How Napoli went from Scudetto winners to making Maradona roll in his grave 🪦

Victor Osimhen has just 15 Serie A goals this season compared to 26 last season

Napoli’s title defense is going from bad to worse.

Last season’s Scudetto winners suffered their 11th league defeat of the season on Saturday, losing 2-0 to Bologna in a performance that encapsulated their woes since last May’s triumph.

Bologna scored two headers within the opening 12 minutes thanks to calamitous defending from Napoli players, who stood bewildered after each goal, scratching their heads and pointing fingers at teammates. The Azzurri were handed a golden opportunity to claw back Bologna’s lead after Victor Osimhen was fouled in the box, but Matteo Politano directed his penalty-kick straight into the arms of Federico Ravaglia – almost as if the universe had condemned Neapolitans to another 30 years of suffering.

The loss effectively puts an end to Napoli’s dreadful domestic campaign, eliminating them from Europe with just 51 points through 36 games. They had reached the same point total in only 19 games last season, and should they fail to win their last two games would set the record for the worst title defense of all time, with a -39 point differential in the season following their title win. 😬 

So how exactly did Napoli go from runaway Serie A champions to a mid-table team in under a year? Where did it all go wrong?

It all started with an email

Things were all going well for Napoli last April. The club had made their deepest-ever Champions League run, were running away with Serie A, and had blossoming superstars in damn near every position on the pitch.

Then-manager Luciano Spalletti’s contract was set to expire at the end of June, but the club had a a unilateral option to extend it for a season on the same salary, which club president Aurelio De Laurentiis exercised after conferring with other club execs.

The problem is, he did this without first consulting Spalletti, who only found out that his future had been made for him when he opened his inbox one day. That’s right, De Laurentiis informed Spalletti of his extension via email – the soccer world’s equivalent of your boyfriend proposing to you via text while you’re out buying groceries.

After the Scudetto victory, the President said to everyone things that I would've preferred he say directly to me first.

Luciano Spalletti

De Laurentiis likely intended to send the email as a negotiating tactic, but Spalletti was understandably pissed, and resigned at the end of the season before accepting the Italy job. Director of football Cristiano Giuntoli left too, leaving De Laurentiis scrambling for replacements.

The coaching carousel

In June, De Laurentiis appointed French manager Rudi Garcia, whose last job was coaching Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia. 12 games into the season and Garcia’s Napoli were fourth in Serie A, but tensions were rising in the background between him and De Laurentiis.

The Frenchman wasn’t popular with many players, and once told De Laurentiis to “let him do his job” when he approached Garcia with a friendly suggestion following a 1-0 defeat to Empoli in November.

I told him to fuck off.

De Laurentiis

De Laurentiis fired Garcia two days later, and called on Walter Mazzarri as his replacement. Things went from bad to worse under Mazzarri, who had gotten canned in each of his last four jobs prior to his second stint at the club. Napoli went from fourth to tenth in his three months as manager, finding themselves 27 points off league-leaders Inter when he was fired on February 19th. 📉

De Laurentiis then turned to Slovakia boss Francesco Calzona as interim manager just two days before their first-leg clash with Barcelona in the Champions League round of 16. Take a guess at how that game played out…

Prior to his appointment – which should see him at the club through the end of the season – Calzona had not coached a single minute at the professional club level. The Italian even retained his post as Slovakia’s manager, meaning he’s performing double duties until De Laurentiis inevitably sacks him for “failing to meet expectations.”

Calzona is clearly not the long-term answer at Napoli, but after the way De Laurentiis has treated managers lately, can the club really find anyone better?

Yard sale: everything must go!

Napoli’s future doesn’t just look bleak from a managerial perspective. Sans the departure of Kim Min-jae to Bayern, the club retained their talented core that won the league last season, but those same players are likely now thinking that the grass is greener elsewhere (and they’re probably right).

Star talisman Victor Osimhen has been at the forefront of transfer rumors for years now, but they intensified in September after the club posted (then deleted) two TikToks trolling the Nigerian. After four seasons in Italy, Osimhen seems like he’s had enough, and is likely to make a big-money move to a club like PSG or Chelsea this summer.

Looking like a Champions League quarter-final exit

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, who was named Serie A’s player of the season last year, seems sick of the club’s bullshit too. Latest reports indicate the Georgian winger is “unsettled” at Napoli, and likely to make a move to another top club, with PSG, Barcelona, and Arsenal having expressed interest.

What’s next? De Laurentiis still needs to identify a long-term manager, having already met with preferred candidate Antonio Conte last Saturday. Should the Italian return to Serie A, he’ll have plenty of funds to build the squad from the ground up with the transfer profits fetched from the likely sale of Osimhen and Kvaratskhelia, which could exceed €200 million. Not a bad way to start the rebuild, if you ask me. 🤷‍♂️