Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis may be facing an even bigger challenge now than he did a year ago when captain Lorenzo Insigne, club record scorer Dries Mertens and defensive stalwart Kalidou Moulibaly left the club.
Napoli more than exceeded expectations when new signees Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Kim Min-jae helped the southern club win Serie A for the first time in more than three decades.
But now Luciano Spalletti — the coach whose attacking tactics garnered plaudits from all over Europe — is leaving, and so is sporting director Cristiano Giuntoli — the man who signed “Kvara” and Kim and a host of other influential players like Giacomo Raspadori and Giovanni Simeone.
While Spalletti is taking a year off, Giuntoli appears headed to rival Juventus.
“Starting today, and for the entire month of June, we’ll work diligently toward finding a new coach,” De Laurentiis said after Napoli was awarded the Serie A trophy following its final match of the season on Sunday. “It’s not the first time that we’ve had to open a new cycle and in the past we’ve very rarely made the wrong choice.”
Fiorentina coach Vincenzo Italiano, who uses the same 4-3-3 formation as Spaletti, is reportedly the leading candidate for the Napoli job, although nothing will be decided until after Fiorentina concludes its season by playing in the Europa Conference League final on Wednesday against West Ham.
Former Napoli coach Rafa Benitez is also apparently interested in returning to the club, while ex Barcelona and Spain coach Luis Enrique reportedly turned the job down.
Whoever is hired will be tasked with trying to keep Napoli’s key players.
Kim is attracting interest from the Premier League and Serie A scoring leader Victor Osimhen’s value has soared above 100 million euros ($100 million) on the transfer market.
“I love this city and I love the fans,” Osimhen said. “Next season we can win the Champions League, too. Let’s see what the president decides. I’ll accept whatever the decision is.”
Also, “Kvara,” the dribbling wizard from Georgia, wants a new contract after being awarded with the league’s MVP award. Although he said Sunday that he’s “happy” to stay at Napoli.
Spalletti is taking what’s been labeled as a “sabbatical” year, although he doesn’t plan to return to Napoli.
“Napoli changed my life,” Spalletti said. “Nobody can ever get in the way of the feeling between me and this city.”
Spalletti added that he could be open to coaching a national team after his year off.
“There’s no need to judge your choice,” read a banner put up by Napoli’s hard-core “ultra” fans inside the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. “Honor to the man that realized our dream. Ciao mister.”
Roma coach Jose Mourinho was suspended for the Giallorossi’s final match of the season, a 2-1 win over Spezia, but he came out and joined his team to salute fans at the final whistle.
As fans chanted for Mourinho, he pointed with his right index finger toward the Stadio Olimpico field as if to say, “I’m staying here.”
Mourinho has one more season remaining on his three-year contract at Roma but had said that he wanted more managerial support if he were to stay.
“Things are much clearer than they seem,” Roma general manager Tiago Pinto said.
Mourinho, however, will likely receive a lengthy ban from UEFA for his outspoken criticism of the referee in the Europa League final, which Roma lost to Sevilla last week. Mourinho was also seen insulting the referee, Anthony Taylor, with a series of expletives in the garage of the Puskas Arena in Budapest, Hungary, as his team prepared to depart the stadium.
And Roma could be missing center forward Tammy Abraham for the start of next season after the striker tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against Spezia.
With Lazio having finished second to Napoli, it’s the first time since 1985 that neither Juventus nor one of the two Milan clubs placed within the top two in Serie A.
In 1985, Hellas Verona won ahead of Torino.
Verona and Spezia finished level on 31 points and third from the bottom, which means that, under new rules, there will be a playoff to decide which club remains in the top flight. The playoff will take place next Sunday at a neutral ground.
Also, Bari and Cagliari meet in the two-leg final of the Serie B playoffs on Thursday and Sunday to determine which club will be promoted.
Serie B champion Frosinone and second-place Genoa secured automatic promotion. (AP)