Charting the reasons for Luciano Spalletti’s Napoli exit wish

Not long ago, Luciano Spalletti was expected by many to continue his adventure at Napoli after winning the Scudetto. Even those that follow Serie A from close by didn’t expect the Italian to seek a departure from the Partenopei, days after having helped them to the title and immortalising himself in the Naples folklore.

But stranger things have happened in football and they will continue to happen till eternity. And here we are, days away from witnessing Spalletti’s last game as Napoli manager as Aurelio de Laurentiis himself confirmed that the manager wants to leave and take a sabbatical next year. There have been a fair amount of questions about why the oldest manager to win Serie A is seeking an exit from a club where he seems to have formed a special bond with the fans.

Truth be told, the reasons seem obvious now – atleast in hindsight. Spalletti has always been known to be a highly emotional manager who is renowned in Italian quarters for his idiosyncrasies and eccentricity. He is known to spend an incredible amount of time at the club’s training ground, without seeking the comfort of his home. When the 64-year-old is invested in a project, he is fully engrossed in it. He becomes emotionally wielded to it and his words after the Scudetto win in Udine suggest that:

“The problem for those who are used to always working hard, like me, is that they can’t even fully enjoy victories. Happiness is a fleeting thing . Now I’ve won, ok, but then you have to work again. It’s a life approach that takes away something from you. Seeing the Neapolitans smile, the Neapolitans happy is the greatest emotion.

“They are the ones who transfer happiness to me. They will be able to overcome the hard moments of life by thinking back to this moment here. So it is an important thing. Now I feel more relaxed. Thank goodness, I managed to give this happiness to the Neapolitans.”

While that quote says a lot about his perception of the historic Scudetto and it encapsulates what football means to Naples, but reports in Italy suggest that the burden of carrying the hopes of a city is tiring him out. There is no longer a guarantee that Napoli can either repeat the feat again or they challenge in the Champions League. With links around key players such as Victor Osimhen and Kim Min-Jae continuing to linger around, Spalletti feels that he could let the Neapolitans down.

While club supremo Aurelio de Laurentiis has had a part to play in replacing the club’s former stars like Kalidou Koulibaly, Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens and Fabian Ruiz, Cristiano Guintoli’s brains were behind how they were replaced. And with Juventus said to be edging closer to a move for the Italian, the guarantee of Napoli repeating the feat of replacing stardom reduces considerably. And that seems to be bothering Spalletti, who would’ve wanted to take the club to another level in an ideal world. But Napoli, whether he likes it or not, are sellers and De Laurentiis has shown to prefer that.

In a way, fans should have seen the breakdown in Spalletti’s relationship with De Laurentiis coming some weeks ago. After the Scudetto win in Udine, De Laurentiis revelled in glory and confidently said that Spalletti would definitely stay beyond this season. Around the same time, Spalletti said that they were yet to speak and the hard-nosed De Laurentiis had only informed the media about the manager’s stay. That was arguably the first hint at a relationship which seems to now have an ‘iron curtain’ between it, as per reports.

The coldness was best typified by Spalletti’s interview right after he had a luxurious dinner meeting with De Laurentiis some weeks ago. Initially, it seemed as if it was for the better and the pair had ironed out differences. But on his way out, Spalletti said: “The president always picks a good bottle of wine. Wine isn’t something I know much about.”

When one considers that Spalletti manages his own vineyard in Tuscany, that comment seems almost sarcastic. It was a mockery shrouded in sarcasm. 

Reports in Italy have suggested that Spalletti’s unhappiness with De Laurentiis goes back to earlier this season when the club president was constantly taking shots at UEFA when Napoli were taking part in the Champions League themselves. In August last year, De Laurentiis publicly claimed that he would not sign African players unless they promise their non-participation in the AFCON and the comment didn’t go down with those at UEFA. He recently called UEFA ‘headless’ and blamed the organisation for their Champions League exit at the hands of Milan.

In April, De Laurentiis had a rather public feud with the Partenopei ultras, who were protesting against ticket prices and rules regarding display of banners and flags. The tensions were at a point where De Laurentiis was handed special police protection. There was anger amongst fans when they realised that the tickets for the Champions League return leg against Milan were priced at a gross €90.

The dinner meeting, which many thought was a positive one, was actually one in which Spalletti had informed his future desires to De Laurentiis. Despite that, De Laurentiis’ public stance remained the opposite. Spalletti’s was cryptic, which is largely normal for someone like him as he spoke about the finality of the decision made without pointing out what the decision truly was. He would also ask the club to make the decision public, as the media constantly insisted on the details. De Laurentiis stated some days ago that he wouldn’t ‘clip’ anyone’s wings and Spalletti’s response was even more cryptic:

“I don’t know what that means, you have to ask the president. That’s why what I want to do doesn’t take a pair of wings, it takes a pair of boots, I don’t have to fly anywhere.”

Last night was probably the first time that De Laurentiis has acknowledged Spalletti’s stance in public, handing the famous ‘Che tempo che fa’ what they would absolutely love. Spalletti isn’t a stranger to leaving clubs like the way he is. His most recent Roma stint ended after disagreements with the controversial James Pallotta and after club icon Francesco Totti had publicly criticised the then Giallorossi boss for phasing him out and not playing him enough. It took a toll on Spalletti and as it stands, things at Naples are taking a toll on him too. The sabbatical clause in his current contract makes a lot of sense for someone who is said to be worn out and needs a break from the burdens of Calcio. In hindsight, we should have all seen this coming.





Kaustubh Pandey | GIFN





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