So pre-season in Dimaro - or as its known in the business The Aurelio De Laurentiis Show - is almost at an end. We’ve had the Miss Dimaro contest, we’ve had the anti-Juventus sing along led by Mr President himself, we’ve had the new kit launch and amongst all this we’ve had a football match, against Feralpi Salo.
There are reputedly six million Napoli fans worldwide and it seemed as though a great many of them had descended on this beautiful alpine commune to watch their heroes prepare for the long season ahead. The enthusiasm of the Neapolitan tifosi is astonishing, no better illustrated than in one of the club’s final workouts on Saturday morning, when in torrential rain, over 2000 of them came to see Rafa Benitez put his players through their paces before allowing them to go aquaplaning across the drenched playing surface just for laughs.
If any of the players thought that the rest of their time was now going to be easy they were in for a rude awakening when just 24 hours later Benitez told his talismanic Spanish midfielder Jose Callejon to leave the training ground as he appeared to be ‘lacking focus’.
The serious business now begins as the Vesuviani prepare to return to base camp for this weekend’s home friendly against Greek side PAOK Salonika before heading off to Geneva for the showpiece game against Barcelona. Ten days of high profile matches concludes on August 11 at the San Paolo where Paris Saint-Germain provide the opposition. De Laurentiis is a showman for sure but he’s also a canny businessman - for one thing, all three of the above fixtures are only available on pay per view.
The team are under pressure this season, a Champions League preliminary game in late August is not ideal and the ever demanding fans expect the Scudetto next May - nothing less will do this time around. Benitez has strengthened his attack by bringing in Spanish striker Michu from Swansea on a season long loan deal - Frenchman Kalidou Koulibaly has also arrived to add much needed steel to a suspect back-line.
How Gonzalo Higuain will react to his incredible miss in the World Cup Final remains to be seen but on the positive side, highly rated goalkeeper Rafael is ready to go again after recovering from cruciate knee ligament damage suffered in March. Last season’s No 1 Pepe Reina has returned to Liverpool, but De Laurentiis has not given up on the possibility of bringing the Spanish goalkeeper back to Campania stating that he would ‘welcome him back with open arms’.
It’s been a painful few months for the Partenopei. Events surrounding last May’s Coppa Italia Final have been well publicised with certain players affected by the tragic death of one of their supporters. Some of the club’s hard-line fans are starting to question the De Laurentiis strategy and it seems that their patience is about to run out. However, one only has to observe however the incredible show of affection displayed in Dimaro to realise that the majority of fans will back their President 100 per cent.