Napoli’s sacking of Carlo Ancelotti had become public knowledge well before it actually happened. Despite Arek Milik grabbing his first hat-trick of the season against Genk, Aurelio de Laurentiis took the decision to get rid of Don Carlo on Tuesday evening. It was hardly a surprise that Rino Gattuso would replace him. Most of the leading betting sites had stopped taking bets on the former AC Milan man taking over.
It was a move to possibly school the unruly children of Naples. After all, that’s what De Laurentiis views the partenopei players as. His approach to things in recent weeks is a reflection of how he sees this whole situation as another film that he is a producer of.
Before the Genk win, Napoli had not won their last seven league games. Three of those seven were against Roma, Atalanta and Milan, while the rest were against Genoa, Udinese, SPAL, Bologna. The club wasn’t just languishing eight points behind high-flying Cagliari, who find themselves at fourth in the league.
When Ancelotti had come in as a replacement for Maurizio Sarri last season, he was expected to add his slightly more practical elements to Sarriball. He did that in his first season. Napoli were tactically flexible in their approach to games. On paper, they always played a 4-3-3. But as the season wore on, Ancelotti made a change to a 4-4-2.
But the 4-4-2 formation was unlike a traditional one. It constantly transitioned to a 4-3-3 with the left midfielder coming inside and the right midfielder pushing forward. In the Champions League, Napoli usually fielded Nikola Maksimovic at right-back. This made the transition to a back-three easier, having Jose Callejon play as the right wing-back.
There was tactical flexibility. But the basis of their approach was the same. They liked to have possession of the ball, but were just quicker in transitions. They had the second-highest average possession per game in the Serie A last season- 56.8 percent. In Sarri’s last season, it was at 60.3 percent.
The 2nd place finish was proof was they were on the right track. And with the right signings, they would be stronger Scudetto challengers. They were a dramatic Alisson save late in the game at Anfield away from going through to the knockout stages of the Champions League.
This season though, it is hardly a case of Ancelotti losing his players. It is a case of De Laurentiis losing the trust of the manager and players and vice versa. The ritiro incident saw them disobey De Laurentiis, with Ancelotti behind his players as always. This led to De Laurentiis publicly shaming the players and claiming to dock their wages. He went as far as saying that he would sell them.
The atmosphere has become toxic. The club has won zero games since the Salzburg game. The ritiro is seen as a traditional activity which sees a struggling team discuss problems and concerns. But for modern-day highly-paid footballers, it is like an embarrassment. And De Laurentiis expected them to attend it, thinking that they’re kids who need to be taught a lesson.
Ancelotti had made it clear on the very day of the ritiro that it wasn’t his decision. He was a mere pawn who was forced to obey De Laurentiis’ demands. He had publicly talked up his support for players in the situation, as a press conference ban was put on.
Throughout this poor period, Napoli held Liverpool to a 1-1 draw. In what was a tactical show of genius from Ancelotti, it was clear that the players were on his side. In games against Cagliari, Bologna and Genoa, the team had missed a load of chances to score. If the finishing was there, things could have been different today. The club wouldn’t have faced the possibility of not making the top four next season.
Ancelotti’s insistence to go with a more traditional 4-4-2 left them to be overrun at the back and in midfield. While that was an issue, lack of support from players never was. It has never been Ancelotti’s problem to lose the support of his players. Bar his stint at Bayern Munich, his sackings have never come due to him losing the dressing room.
In Gattuso, De Laurentiis has got a man who will deal with players differently. Instead of cajoling performances out of them, they will be beaten out of them. The fierce competitor that Gattuso is, he won’t be as soft as Ancelotti is.
It is a transition from a soft and loved teacher to a strict substitute teacher. The headmaster of it all has seen that the students aren’t obedient enough to study. That is when a hard-mentality substitute teacher comes in. While financial reasons do persist, the intention behind the decision is very clear.