After picking up the pieces of a season spent in turmoil, a new-look Napoli plan to restart. Jeremy Lim assesses the Partenopei’s Serie A prospects under Maurizio Sarri.
Maurizio Sarri is Neopolitan. He also is 56, a chain smoker, wears a track suit and is about to embark on only his second campaign in Serie A. And for Napoli, that’s perfect. Others have not been so convinced. His appointment as Coach in June raised the eyebrows of some.
But the only surprise at this point is the Partenopei’s continued ability to surprise. Besides, the club will tell you that his return to his hometown following his year in charge of keeping Empoli in the Italian top-flight is written in the stars. Perhaps it is. Sarri is tenacious, obsessed with his work and bold with the new when constructing a side capable of competing.
“There’s a lot of work to do and that is why I hired a hard worker like Sarri,” patron Aurelio De Laurentiis stated. “He is extremely approachable, but also resolute, so everyone loves him.”
“He [De Laurentiis] said he chose me because he wanted to base Napoli on work instead of big names. I took it as a compliment,” Sarri revealed.
The message has been that in the Italian are all the things predecessor Rafael Benitez lacked. Napoli had hoped to remain progressive with their choice then. But the taste left in the mouth during the Spaniard’s two-year spell in charge, during which he stirred the pot too much and left it to simmer until it boiled over, is that the team only regressed tactically and mentally.
Benitez’s CV as a Coach of international calibre couldn’t bring with it respect from his troops, but the feeling is Sarri’s sincerity and willingness to put himself at their disposal can. “With Sarri, I can give more,” Marek Hamsik said. “His ideas of football are very different to Benitez, so I won’t have to play with my back to goal anymore.” Whether the captain returns from the periphery to being a protagonist in a deeper role will be key to their season, and forms the basis of Sarri’s work.
“I prefer the chance to improve a player rather than just get another one,” he says. And though reinforcements in the shape of Allan from Udinese and his protégé Mirko Valdifiori from Empoli have been forthcoming, the boss believes the basis of success already exists within the club, particularly after retaining the services of star Gonzalo Higuain.
“He can give us what a world-class player does. I still feel he has a lot he can do, and he can definitely explode. [Jose] Callejon has fallen in love with his new role as a secondary striker, he’s fundamental. [Lorenzo] Insigne doesn’t need to convince me, as he is one of the greatest talents in Italian football,” Sarri says.
“We are focusing more on the 4-3-1-2 and 4-3-2-1,” he continued, and in the system Insigne and Dries Mertens alike have flourished playing more centrally and closer to goal. “This team scored 102 goals last season, which means there is something good there. When it comes to the new defensive movements, I think there’s just a matter of assimilation.”
The team’s movements and positioning on the training pitch are now monitored by drones, but Sarri is aware his men are made of muscle, mind and spirit – not lights or clockwork. Solving last season’s malaise will not be as simple a question as formation or tactics, and the trainer has worked to win the trust of his squad, changing their ‘mentality’ and rebuilding the confidence of the team.
The need to start strong, burying the psychological cracks that sprung up so evidently the last campaign, has undoubtedly been impressed upon them. Over the course of pre-season, players showcased the ability to be stubborn, solid sorts again. “We are training with real desire to have a great season. This team can do very well indeed,” Higuain predicts. Napoli are as ready as they’ll ever be. Just as their Coach Sarri is.
Following a debut season in Serie A leading an Empoli side he transformed into greater than the sum of its parts with foresight and meticulous planning, Maurizio Sarri will be keen to implement his methods on a Napoli team with Champions League ambitions, and the talent and resources to match.
Marek Hamsik had spent the last two years of his career living in the shadow of Gonzalo Higuain, but the Slovakian has shown signs of waking from his slumber in pre-season. Benefiting from playing in a deeper role under Maurizio Sarri, the captain could return to being Napoli’s totem in the middle of the park.
The Brazilian buy from Udinese took great strides last term and is the profile of player Napoli are attempting to recruit – young, with unlimited potential to improve. On the pitch, Allan is a terrier-like presence with not just the ability to halt opponent attacks, but the technique to initiate his own.
For one so talented, it’s a wonder how Lorenzo Insigne has yet to enjoy his Italy breakthrough. But with his boyhood club potentially on to something with regards to deploying him in a new position behind the strikers, the forward could provide an excellent solution in the Azzurri’s problem trequartista position, should he prove decisive in Serie A next season.
REINA; HYSAJ, Koulibaly, Albiol, Ghoulam; ALLAN, VALDIFIORI, Hamsik; Insigne; Callejon, Higuain
With minimal changes to playing staff and the addition of several shrewd signings, Napoli enjoy an excellent basis to return to the Champions League under Maurizio Sarri.
Keep up to date with all the Serie A transfers with Football Italia's summer 2015 transfer table.