You cannot call Carlo Ancelotti a gamble, but his recent appointment at Napoli feels as though it just might be. Let’s be clear that there is no disputing his pedigree, his intelligence or his adaptability, but he is entering a world laced with Maurizio Sarri.
Perhaps it is the jump from a Coach who simply coaches, to a man who wins though trust, which may scare the locals. Will they sacrifice their beautiful football? Can they compete against Juventus now with Ancelotti? There are many questions and it seems no obvious answer.
At first glance, it seems like quite a coup for the Neapolitans, as a serial winner has taken over the reins at Serie A’s nearly men. Surely a man who has won domestic leagues already in Italy as well as England, Germany and France as well as two Champions Leagues is the perfect man to allow the Partenopei to challenge The Old Lady?
The Scudetto has now taken out a mortgage in Turin. Napoli after all have a talented team, but the question does remain whether President Aurelio De Laurentiis is willing to spend money and hang on to some of their star assets. Dries Mertens has been noted by Roma, Pepe Reina has already gone to Milan, Jorginho is swapping Naples for the grey skies of Manchester and everybody wants Kalidou Koulibaly.
Ancelotti will need financial commitment if the Neapolitans are to challenge in Serie A. After all, Juventus are committed to spending this window. Inter have made some fantastic acquisitions so far, while Roma are a year on with Eusebio Di Francesco. This means challenges for a man used to the deep squads of Real Madrid, PSG, Bayern Munich and Milan back when the Rossoneri were feared. That is not to say Ancelotti cannot still coach a talented team and provide results, but there is perhaps an issue with this. Sarri wanted nothing more than 16 players on a training field and repetition. Can Ancelotti coach to the same levels Sarri can? Does he need to?
One should not be disparaging when it comes to Ancelotti’s coaching credentials, as after all he is studious and will experiment. His dissertation at Coverciano’s coaching course was in depth analysis of the 4-3-2-1 formation (something that would go down well at the Stadio San Paolo).
Throughout his career he also showed how adaptable he was, especially as he made a self-proclaimed error in his early days at Parma. Here he played 4-4-2 religiously, understandable having played under Arrigo Sacchi at Milan for so long. This however, resulted in him playing Gianfranco Zola on the left and he also missed out on signing Roberto Baggio as he ‘didn’t fit the formation.’
Learning from this, he used a 3-4-1-2 at Juventus, a 4-3-2-1 at Milan although this soon moved to a 4-3-1-2. At Chelsea, PSG and Bayern he played 4-3-2-1, 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 showing that he was not set in his ways. The football his teams played has been effective and with a mix of handling (even if in his own unique style) big stars and an ability to utilise his rather large budgets to fit square pegs in square holes, he has managed to instil a winning mentality into his teams.
Perhaps Napoli need to move on from the free-flowing beauty that was so sumptuous under Sarri, but ultimately fruitless in terms of trophies. This may be one of the best appointments this season if he can manage to add some game management and European experience in to a team that is sublimely talented.
What Ancelotti will not want is to end up in a situation where his budget is so far behind the Northern powerhouses that it leaves them sliding down the table. After all, surely this was the beauty of Sarri? A Coach who could create so much from a squad that truth be told never really went deeper than 16 players. Whatever happens will be intriguing, as it will uncover the players’ mentality, how they can improve with more trust and freedom, or on the flip side, if they fall away as they lament the barking that used to come from behind the cloud of smoke on the touchline.