Aurelio De Laurentiis and Maurizio Sarri may very well have been the best thing to ever happen to each other – until a couple of weeks ago, that is.
The Napoli patron gave a relatively unproven manager in his mid-50s an opportunity with a big club and a platform on which to excel. The Italian tactician had never coached a club in European competition before, and didn’t have any experience managing international stars like Gonzalo Higuain or Marek Hamsik.
But it worked.
Sarri’s sides broke the club points record for three consecutive seasons, and did so by becoming the talk of Europe for their mesmerizing style of play. The Coach finally received the international recognition he deserved, while the President looked like a genius for the appointment.
Despite all the success on the pitch though, it felt like the Sarri era was coming to an end after falling just short of the Scudetto. He refused to comment on his future - even after the final match of the season against Crotone.
“My only confusion is that in life everything comes to an end. It’s the truth and sometimes it’s better to finish stories while they are good.”
Sarri had suddenly become a hot commodity on the continent and wasn’t sure whether he could take the Partenopei any further than he already had.
As history has proven in the past, De Laurentiis is not always the most patient of men, and was clearly frustrated when he still didn’t have an answer once the season had concluded.
“I don’t know, you’d have to ask him… He always fobbed me off to his agent, who never gave me a reply. Time’s up! There are no more deadlines.”
Knowing that Carlo Ancelotti was willing to come South, De Laurentiis couldn’t afford to wait much longer. The Napoli Coach had been biding his time to see what offers would arrive from abroad, but the club shocked many – including Sarri – by announcing the signing of one of the most decorated managers on the planet.
Sarri quickly found himself left behind, and at the mercy of the Partenopei boss. While Ancelotti was officially unveiled as the new Napoli Coach, Sarri hadn’t been sacked and his €8m release clause was still in effect.
Was it the reason he ultimately won’t land the Chelsea job? Nobody will ever really know. De Laurentiis’ reluctance to nullify the clause certainly didn’t help the Italian’s chances, though. However, it is not all doom and gloom for Sarri, considering he will still be paid his €1.5m salary if he doesn’t find another gig.
He has recently been linked to the suddenly vacant Real Madrid bench, and could still be an attractive option for a plethora of European clubs. But don’t expect De Laurentiis to ease his stance, and Sarri shouldn’t either.
The President has always proven to be a tough negotiator with his players in the past, unwilling to let them go on the cheap or for any less than an agreed release clause. Sarri had to have known what he was getting into when he signed the deal, and was given every opportunity to continue where he was.
It would be heartbreaking and a real shame for fans of the beautiful game if Sarri doesn’t get the opportunity he deserves abroad or is forced to sit out a year. But De Laurentiis was able to rescue Napoli from the abyss and turn them into one of the most financially stable clubs on the Peninsula by playing hardball. That’s not going to change now.