Is this the Scudetto year for Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis? Certainly following a decade of steady progress after rescuing the club from debt and disillusion, he deserves it. It all started at the end of July 2004 when he bought the club, refloated it as Napoli Soccer and began changing its whole outlook as the Vesuviani started life in Serie C1.
Soon enough DeLa bought back the SCC Napoli name as the club went on to achieve successive promotions, become a serious title challenger, experience two Champions League adventures and win two Italian Cups. And although sometimes over this last decade for many he acted like a megalomaniac, he only ever did things for the good of his precious Partenopei.
Looking back over the decade, De Laurentiis’ self-assurance has manifested in various interesting and different outbursts. One notable effort saw him threaten Coach Edy Reja after a 2-2 home draw with Lazio in January 2009. “I won’t beat you up because you’re an old man, but I’m going to sack you,” he warned. Two months later it happened.
That summer De Laurentiis sanctioned €60m for seven players, including €18m for Fabio Quagliarella. However, new Coach Roberto Donadoni complained to the media he wasn’t happy and wanted a left-sided midfielder. ADL reacted in his own inimitable way saying: “Donadoni said we need a left midfielder? Why doesn’t he buy one then? If he buys him then that will be good.” Inevitably after a poor start the former Azzurri Coach was sacked in October, with DeLa appointing Walter Mazzarri.
Under Mazzarri Napoli moved on to another level, finishing sixth and making the Europa League in his first full season. ADL subsequently backed a €17m move for Palermo striker Edinson Cavani and in 2011 Napoli finished third and qualified for the Champions League.
The following season they finished fifth but beat Juve to win their fourth Italian Cup and ADL’s smile could not have been any wider as he picked up the trophy in the Stadio Olimpico. In Europe Napoli missed out on the last eight after a narrow aggregate defeat by Chelsea in the Round of 16.
Despite his success, Mazzarri claimed he wanted a new challenge and even as ADL apparently offered him a contract worth €4m a season it was to no avail as he left for Inter. Showing his more philosophical side, the President sighed: “You can make a wife stay with money but if she’s decided to sleep with someone else, she’ll sleep with someone else.”
Another time after incessant Press talk about English clubs wanting Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi, ADL handled it in his own incomparable way. “If they want to go to England then in the end they’re going to go, but they need to understand this: The English live badly, eat badly and their women do not wash their genitalia. To them, a bidet is a mystery.” Needless to say the two players never moved to the EPL.
In another jaw-dropping statement last year he threatened to leave the city altogether, if his plans to buy and redevelop the San Paolo were not approved by the city’s council. “There are people who don’t listen and if they don’t then I will take that on board and leave,” he thundered. “If I do leave Napoli, then you can play in the third division and keep your mayor. Maybe he can even play for you, together with his councillors.
“I’m going to meet with the mayor to decide whether I should leave Naples and start over in England with Rafael Benitez and the players. Maybe I should just move to England and leave you with the youth team. I’m not going to leave the Napoli side I’ve built bit-by-bit in the hands of somebody else.” All genuine words, especially the last phrase, but thankfully then everything was sorted out.
Certainly you wouldn’t want to get on his wrong side as Lavezzi’s agent nearly found out. Following reports of the Argentinean leaving ADL responded with a vicious threat: “If (Alejandro) Mazzoni starts being stupid then I will chop his balls off.”
A decade after instigating Napoli’s rebirth, De Laurentiis has not gotten any quieter but he has created a club compliant with Financial Fair Play regulations, that genuinely challenges for the Scudetto and that represents a credible European force. Fans will be hoping that even if the next decade has as many notable outbursts, it is backed up by similar progress under their owner.