Wednesday November 29 2017
Winning beautiful

As Napoli prepare to face Juventus on Friday, Jamie Thorn weighs up just how important spectacular football really is.

As the full-time whistle blew on Napoli’s 1-0 win over Udinese on Sunday, their biggest detractors were forced to bite their tongues. It wasn’t pretty but, with Inter breathing down their necks, Lorenzo Insigne and co. ground out a win to remain top of Serie A ahead of Friday’s mouth-watering clash with Juventus.

By their own admission, the leaders were sluggish – in no small part due to their midweek Champions League exertions, and a reluctance on Coach Maurizio Sarri’s part to rotate his squad. The goal itself epitomised the scrappiness of Napoli’s performance, with Jorginho missing the penalty but converting the rebound. Sarri pointed to a change in mentality: “We struggled more in previous years during games like this. We showed less quality than usual, but that was inevitable. Now, Napoli can win ugly.”

That’s what makes the Partenopei such a frightening prospect this season: Sarri has instilled some grit and fire in their bellies. There’s little point in waxing lyrical about how beautifully they can play, but their ability to win games they may otherwise have drawn sees them as favourites for their first Scudetto since 1990. They wouldn’t thank you for saying it, but Napoli have a bit more Juventus in them this season.

What pulls fans in their thousands to the Stadio San Paolo though is their sublime football. Their penchant for penetrative passes and the scintillating speed at which they construct their attacks has made the world outside of Italy sit up and take notice. Despite losing both legs of their Champions League clash with Manchester City, Pep Guardiola’s glowing endorsement of ‘Sarrismo’ was a great source of pride for the Napoli faithful, especially significant as it came from a man who is no stranger to winning trophies with unnervingly accurate passing and perpetual movement.

Football first and foremost is a game designed to entertain. If Napoli were to sacrifice their attacking principles for performances like Sunday’s against Udinese, they may trudge along to their long-awaited Scudetto - but at what cost? Footballing legacies extend further than a few trophies in a trophy cabinet. As Arsenal's Arsène Wenger, another advocate for attacking football, stated: ‘Football is an art, like dancing is an art - but only when it's well done does it become an art’.

Art is subjective though, and stubbornly sticking to a blueprint of attacking football has left Wenger without a Premier League title since 2004. How long can Napoli’s fans be content with a few solitary Coppa Italia trophies? 

This season, the Serie A title race is proving to be a particularly interesting one, as despite their contrasting styles, the top two are separated by a mere two points. Although it’s still early days, Luciano Spalletti’s tenure at Inter has drawn comparisons with Jose Mourinho’s for their pragmatic approach. That’s not to say that the football they’ve produced hasn’t been exciting, but Spalletti has fashioned an identity for a club that had been lacking one with the tools that he had at his disposal. He has accepted that Inter are in a transitional year and can’t out-Napoli Napoli. The Nerazzurri have shown themselves to be opportunists, embodied by their captain and talisman, Mauro Icardi’s remarkable 38.5% conversion rate. They’ve scored fewer goals than the likes of Lazio, Juventus and Napoli, but still sit second in the table through their dogged defence and well drilled backline.

There’s a certain beauty in a disciplined tactical display, and at the risk of sounding pretentious, it takes a certain type of fan to appreciate it. The average football-goer wants to be thrilled by a high-scoring game filled with controversy, yet a manager using all of his tactical nous to mastermind a result against a difficult opponent is considered dull. Are Inter fans getting any less enjoyment out of watching their side adopt a pragmatic approach? I’m sure they’re just happy to be sat at the table of the Scudetto chasing teams. In fact, their attendances are higher than any other side’s this season, with another 70,000 expected to be cheering them on this Sunday when they host Chievo.

For the rest of Serie A, the likes of Chievo grind out results and go about their business year in year out with little fanfare, but they do little to inspire, or ignite interest in a league that has long (wrongly) considered to be defensive. In contrast, the likes of Atalanta and Sampdoria’s approach should be what every club outside of the top six should aim for; fielding a team of promising youngsters and looking to entertain. It certainly feels like a case of ‘he who dares, wins’ with the provinciali and the traditional mid-table sides in Serie A.

Do results and beautiful football have to be mutually exclusive? That’s the challenge for the pretenders to Juventus’ throne. Truly great teams are able to balance style and substance consistently, and that’s what has made the Bianconeri the unstoppable force within Serie A for the last six years. The signs are that Napoli and Inter are beginning to turn the tide through two very different approaches. 

Serie A’s glorious past captured the imagination of its onlookers through exhilarating football, stubborn Italian defences and a period of European dominance. For it to return to forefront of world football, more teams will need to follow Napoli’s suit by showcasing the best that Italy has to offer. If Napoli can find that balance of style and steely determination, then their trophy cabinet won’t be empty for long.

Have your say...
What a great source of pride it was hahhahaha. Ohhhhhh its higuainnnnnn!!! Ohhhhh it had to be him!!!! Hahahahahahahahahah!!!!
on the 2nd December, 2017 at 1:43am
"Pep Guardiola’s glowing endorsement of ‘Sarrismo’ was a great source of pride for the Napoli faithful"

on the 1st December, 2017 at 6:28am
Also if you look at the most succesfull teams in the world juve is now 5th. Come on man nobody cares if you won the cl a few times some years ago even liverpool fans dont brag about their cl trophies anymore and they are even ranked higher than those teams in 6th. You ppl sound like kids i mean juve has 60 plus trophies man you think we care about any of you little guys from the past lol. Get over yourselves man. Its ok dream about being the better team. But the trophy cabinet speaks for itself.
on the 1st December, 2017 at 2:09am
Wow a whole 10 trophies . Thats so amazing and wonderful its also way in the past. What else is also in the past is milan being relegated for match fixing then being relegated a 2nd time for jus being lame. Also pls research match fixing in italy and see where this all started and how many teams are involved. Not only in serie a mind you. Jeez are you 14 yrs old or something . Stop being an idiot and think about how all teams can improve instead of this biased childish nonsense.
on the 1st December, 2017 at 2:01am
has someone forgot to tell Anonymous that inter and milan have together got 10 european cups and the mighty juve have 2. grand only when theres an italian refree at the helm.
on the 1st December, 2017 at 1:07am
Out of topic, you forgot Team of the Week 14. Maybe not too late. :) I like when you make TOTW every week. :)
on the 1st December, 2017 at 12:36am
If napoli win the title it counts for absolutely nothing considering the grand scheme of things. I mean if you add up inter and milans serie a titles they would make up juves. If napoli wins their 2nd or 3rd title i wouldnt be losing any sleep over it neither should anyone else as they will still just be the same lame napoli in a year or two anyway.
on the 30th November, 2017 at 8:48pm
@mmmmmm yeah that's called the English league lol, and look how much love that rubbish league gets.
on the 30th November, 2017 at 10:20am
Also Napoli are most likely out of UCL in a relatively easy group and Roma for instance are most likely through from the second toughest group. Yet nobody mentions them either ?? so Napoli get all the love yet are out of UCL and scored less than a somewhat rubbish so far juve, erm ok I guess. It seems everyone is a bit too desperate to crown a new king of Italy.
on the 30th November, 2017 at 10:17am
I love how everyone is going crazy for Napoli's attacking style yet juve has scored 5 more goals so far. And that's with playing mandzu as a winger still and having COSTA AND BERN on the bench way more often than not.
on the 30th November, 2017 at 10:12am
Why is there only art in attacking football. Watching Barcelona-Juventus 0:0 last year was an art form in defensive sense, so why don't we just remove the defense all together and just watch FWDs kicking the ball into the goal. We could cut the teams to 5 players also...
on the 30th November, 2017 at 9:10am
I have been a juve fan for 18 years and i can tell you that getting lucky is not one of their strong points lol
on the 30th November, 2017 at 1:04am
If I'm supposed to credit Napoli for almost achieving something while playing "attractive" football, I won't. That team's failures in Europe tell all the tales that matter. They're always predictable and falter where it matters most. That has been the case in the league as well.

I think losing to Napoli will cost us dearly, but with this Roma+Icardi(+maybe Lazio), Sarri will fold to pressure again. If we win, it's the end for them already. 24 to go, we'll see what happens.
on the 30th November, 2017 at 12:06am
You play Sarri's beautiful football and we'll just keep winning trophies.
on the 29th November, 2017 at 10:15pm
Napoli is indeed a fresh breath into Italian football. Too bad Juve--with all the resources--cannot give their fan a modern, ballsy, entertaining plays. Juve is all about winning ugly and get lucky.
on the 29th November, 2017 at 8:12pm
No-one except haters will make the claim Sarri does not bring a beauty to his team. But he needs a trophy to be taken seriously.
on the 29th November, 2017 at 7:57pm

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