The worst-kept secret in Serie A was finally revealed on Wednesday, when Napoli appointed Gennaro Gattuso as Carlo Ancelotti’s replacement. It came just hours after Ancelotti had guided the Partenopei to the last 16 of the Champions League, although in the eyes of President Aurelio De Laurentiis, that was not enough to make up for their dreadful domestic form.
The decision to sack Carletto was brave and probably needed to revive the Partenopei’s fortunes in Serie A. The same can be said about the man replacing him. Brave, indeed. But was he needed?
Gattuso looked like becoming the latest in a long line of ex-pros consigned to the managerial scrapheap after failed spells in charge of FC Sion, Palermo and OFI Crete. Granted, he won promotion to Serie B with Pisa in 2016, but they made a swift return to the third tier at the end of the following season and he certainly seemed to have no business managing in the Italian top flight.
Instead, he became the latest Milan hero to take the reins in November 2017, replacing Vincenzo Montella after a stint as coach of the Rossoneri’s Primavera squad. For a while he appeared to be no more than a glorified caretaker, a pawn for Yonghong Li’s board to get the fans back on side.
Yet not only did he outlast the Chinese businessman and his cronies, he also proved there was more than just ‘grinta’ to his coaching credentials, achieving two top-six finishes and reaching two cup Finals amidst all the uncertainty with regards to the club’s ownership. Despite that, the Diavolo felt he was not the right man to take them into the Champions League.
Fast forward six months and he is considered the right choice to breathe life back into a Napoli side whose problems go far beyond the pitch. Only last month, the squad refused to go on a punitive training retreat arranged by De Laurentiis, who went on to fine every member of his first team barring the injured Kevin Malcuit, resulting in a group of players who don’t know whether they’re coming or going.
Milan finished fifth in Serie A last term but failed to capitalise on the likes of Roma, Lazio and even Inter all underachieving, in part due to Rino’s tactical naivety; from persisting with a 4-3-3 formation without a recognised left winger at his disposal and insisting on his side playing out from the back with an ill-equipped defence to a frustrating tendency to leave substitutions too late.
On the other hand, Gattuso’s iron fist comes in stark contrast to the ‘soft power’ approach of his predecessor, which arguably culminated in his demise. Maybe some tough love is what this Napoli team need to get going again in the short term, especially after Ancelotti almost seemed to condone them choosing to disobey their paymaster De Laurentiis with his fence-sitting.
However, there is no getting away from the impression that the 41-year-old is the most underwhelming managerial appointment at the San Paolo since Roberto Donadoni all the way back in March 2009.
Like his fellow Milan icon, Donadoni arrived with a chequered coaching record, having gone from managing just Lecco, Livorno and Genoa to somehow succeeding World Cup winner Marcello Lippi as Italy’s CT in 2006. Just five wins from 19 matches later, he was sacked and replaced by Walter Mazzarri, who set Napoli on their way to becoming the Serie A force they are today.
Of course, this version of the Partenopei is far stronger than the one Donadoni inherited and there is every chance both they and Gattuso pull off this unlikely partnership. But the inkling remains that Napoli should’ve taken the Roma route, writing the season off and bringing in Edy Reja for the rest of 2019-20 before embarking on a brand-new project with fresh players and a fresh coach.
Whatever happens, there will be no shortage of entertainment with Rino and Aurelio both the stars of this show. Whether it’s the kind that pleases Napoli fans or opposition supporters, only time will tell.