In the 97 years of Napoli’s existence, you would be very hard-pressed to find a coach that has connected with the club, the fans, and the city quite as beautifully as Luciano Spalletti. A lot of fans in Napoli weren’t quite convinced when Spalletti was hired in 2021, and understandably so. He represented what Napoli fans feared; close but just not good enough. On many occasions, his teams played the best football in Italy and challenged for the league title but always stumbled at the final hurdle, similar to Napoli over the last decade. Napoli needed a winner, but at the time Spalletti did not represent that.
Before Napoli, Spalletti had been coaching for nearly 30 years. He started his coaching career with a struggling Empoli side and were in Serie C immediately after ending his playing career with them in 1993. Eventually, he led them to back-to-back promotions and finally got them back into the top tier of Italian football. Spalletti then spent the next few years bouncing around, having short spells at Sampdoria, Venezia, and Ancona before finding a home in Udinese, where he would ultimately announce himself as one of the brightest young coaches in Italy.
With Spalletti at the helm, Udinese would go on to finish fourth in the league in 2005, securing a Champions League spot. A season like this with limited resources, in a time where Italian football was the best league in the world, was unprecedented. This led him to the capital, Rome. Although they were playing exciting, expansive football even becoming the first Italian team in history to beat Real Madrid in a Champions League knockout tie, they couldn’t get over the hump and win a league title. Even though he won the Coppa Italia two years in a row, it was that elusive Scudetto the fans were desperate for.
Napoli are champions of Italy for the third time in club history and the first time in 33 years, clinching the Scudetto with five matches to spare after drawing 1-1 at Udinese.
Today, we’re going to take a look at some of the heroes behind Napoli’s historic title. pic.twitter.com/FHrECogI5x
— Breaking The Lines (@BTLvid) May 4, 2023
Once his journey with Roma came to an end, he decided to take on a new challenge, leaving Italy for the first time in his career to join Zenit Saint Petersburg. There he found league success, winning the Russian Premier League on two occasions. But it wasn’t enough, he needed glory in Italy. He returned to Italy for two short spells with Roma and Inter, but again he failed. After a two-year sabbatical, he returned to coaching and it was Napoli who hadn’t won a league title in 33 years, that he would try to lead to glory.
Maybe it made sense; a coach who had never done it before, joining a team who had been waiting for so long. Perhaps that’s why the bond created between Napoli and Spalletti was so deep, they understood each other. Upon arrival, Spalletti did not ask for much, but he did have one request; not to sell important pieces. He believed Napoli already had the talent to compete and he was right, that summer Napoli only signed two players both on loan; centre back Juan Jesus for some cover at the back and midfielder Andre Frank-Zambo Anguissa.
He was right, Napoli won 8 of their first 10 games under Spalletti and quickly became one of the front runners to win the league. But injuries to key players and some inexplicable results against bad teams at home meant once again, Spalletti would miss out. Even though Napoli would go on to lose five integral players who started the majority of games in the 2021-22 season and were sold or didn’t renew, the next season was different, it felt different.
As always, Napoli replaced their players very well, investing in youth and bolstering their squad depth, which was something that had cost them in the past. Napoli won 13 of their first 15 league games, the other two being draws. It was an unbelievable start to a season, the best ever for a team in Serie A. Napoli even brushed teams aside in the Champions League, a 4-1 win against Liverpool set the tone, then beating Ajax 6-1 then 4-2 put the rest of Europe on notice. They were one of the most complete teams in the world, playing exciting football — they were legitimate contenders.
Napoli were the sexiest team in Europe, the league was finally coming back for time first time since Diego Maradona. It was forgone conclusion by February. Napoli broke all sorts of records in the 2022/23 season. Napoli won crowned champions with five games to go, the earliest ever in Italian football, and it could have been sooner had they not been focused on their Champions League quarterfinal match against Milan. But finally, after 30 years, Spalletti was an Italian champion.
Luciano Spalletti was more than just the coach of the football team, he was the leader of an entire city that was dying to have their team crowned. He embraced the southern city and made it his own. Spalletti would often go for walks in the city on his own, enjoying the city, and the people and making time for anyone that wanted a picture or an autograph. What he means to the city cannot be expressed using words, I am just glad I was able to experience it and feel it as it was happening.
It’s a shame that he decided to hang it up after such a historic season, but Diego Maradona isn’t the only name people will associate with the city of Naples, Luciano Spalletti is right there with him. Thank you, Mister.
By: Mohamed Salad / @MohamedASalad
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Giuseppe Bellini / Getty Images