Carlo Ancelotti won’t be shaken passions will be stirred by Napoli challenge
Since when did the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group go into partnership with Barbara Broccoli and start making Bond films?
The tweet Napoli released to announce the appointment of their new manager showed Carlo Ancelotti striking the same pose as Roger Moore in the poster for A View to A Kill. If Aurelio De Laurentiis’ intention was to link the two he couldn’t have done a better job. Of all the Bonds, Ancelotti is probably closest to Moore. Just imagine the one-liners delivered with his trademark raised eyebrow.
— AurelioDeLaurentiis (@ADeLaurentiis) May 23, 2018
Rather poignantly Ancelotti becomes the seventh manager employed by De Laurentiis at Napoli… but enough about 007. Because if the news of Ancelotti’s appointment were a Martini I’d suggest it would not be to Bond’s taste. Rivals are shaken by it. Passions stirred. De Laurentiis could not have cast a better leading man for this role.
Drawing on all his experience in the film industry, he knew it would take something truly box office to make fans forget Maurizio Sarri in a hurry. Leaving aside the fact Sarri didn’t win anything in his three years at the San Paolo, he will go down as arguably the best coach in the club’s history and almost certainly the most popular for his background and playing style.
Aware that he’d likely need to find a successor this summer, De Laurentiis found himself in a tricky position. Appeasing supporters and generating belief in a more successful future was never going to be easy. But delivering Ancelotti does that in emphatic fashion.
It is a stunning coup de theatre and here’s why. Ancelotti hasn’t worked in Italy in nine years. He had out-grown Serie A. Offers to return have not been lacking: Milan tried to woo Ancelotti back a couple of years ago; the FIGC wanted him to take charge of the national team after Italy’s failure to qualify for the World Cup in November. But Ancelotti politely declined even when his old teammate Alessandro Costacurta made one final attempt to convince him a few weeks ago.
The impression given was of an elite manager — the most successful in activity — waiting for a job equal or approximating his own status with a project capable of firing his imagination.
Ancelotti seemed to be angling for a move back to the Premier League. Succeeding Arsene Wenger at Arsenal was reported to have long appealed to Ancelotti. However, overlooked for that position and apparently never high on the club’s list, it would be wrong to portray him as on the rebound. Ancelotti was under no pressure to get back into coaching and could have stayed in Canada, fishing for salmon and watching grizzly bears.
Which is why you have to tip your hat to De Laurentiis for succeeding where others failed: first in tempting Ancelotti to his club and, second, in convincing him to come back to Italy.
Comparisons have been drawn with the time De Laurentiis acted with the same swiftness and showmanship in replacing Walter Mazzarri with Rafael Benitez, another Champions League winner with a transcendent profile.
The most glaring difference is Mazzarri had already found a new club in Inter Milan. For all the speculation linking him with a move to Chelsea, Sarri is still under contract and apparently found out Napoli were holding talks with Ancelotti at De Laurentiis’ offices in Rome while watching TV.
De Laurentiis called time on Sarri at the weekend, clearly sensing he was more inclined to leave than stay. Sarri lamented the prospect of the team breaking up. In his opinion Pepe Reina’s departure represented an ominous sign of things to come. Captain Marek Hamsik has suggested he is preparing to bid farewell to the Partenopei after 11 years at the club, while the “cheap” buyout clauses in the contracts of Dries Mertens, Raul Albiol, Jose Callejon and Faouzi Ghoulam leave Napoli powerless to circling vultures.
Sarri’s doubts about Napoli’s ability to do better next year after establishing a club record points total for a second season in a row, and the difficulty of making a team with Serie A’s fifth highest wage bill punch well above its weight, came across loud and clear in his final appearances before the media.
Candidly Sarri let it be known he considered this a chance to go out on a high. Affection for him is unlikely to be higher in Naples given his scepticism about keeping a good enough team together to win the Scudetto.
De Laurentiis is realistic about that too. He presumably suspects a number of players will receive offers they can’t refuse this summer. Which is why persuading Ancelotti to take over is such a masterstroke.
As was the case with Benitez, who attracted Albiol, Callejon and Gonzalo Higuain to the San Paolo, the thinking is Ancelotti makes Napoli more appealing. He has extraordinary pulling power and gives Napoli access to a higher class of player. Players will set reservations they might otherwise have about coming to Naples aside because it’s Ancelotti and they trust he will assemble a competitive and successful team. Already there’s talk of Karim Benzema, David Luiz and Arturo Vidal; existing players considering their future might now reconsider.
The gloom that threatened to engulf Napoli post-Sarri never appeared. Expertly, De Laurentiis didn’t give it the chance to materialise. Optimism and excitement pervade instead.
In terms of image, Ancelotti has a huge media presence and is generating great interest in Napoli already. Look at it this way: if the quintessential manager of Europe’s elite has chosen to work with Napoli, what does it say about them? That they are elite now too?
Napoli might think that but, to Ancelotti, one imagines it’s the romance of doing something different in his career and achieving glory with an anti-establishment team that makes this a captivating new challenge. Dethroning Juventus, De Laurentiis’ version of Blofeld, will be far from easy. But it’s a mission Ancelotti has chosen to accept. Roll the John Barry music.
James covers the Italian Serie A and European football for ESPN FC Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.