• AMOYAL: Can Napoli become the new Borussia Dortmund?

    AMOYAL: Can Napoli become the new Borussia Dortmund?

    Time to break out the world’s smallest violin to play a sad song for me. After Napoli’s dominant win in the Champions League against Benfica, I had planned to write this column on how Sarri’s squad had taken the title as “Football Hipsters’ team” away from Borussia Dortmund. The only thing standing in the way of this plan was the match against Atalanta, who not only had gotten off to a very poor start to the season but would also be without their leading goal scorer Kessie. I felt as confident as Kanye hitting the tweet button that I could write this column, but then… 

    The loss to Atalanta, and especially Sarri’s statements to the media afterwards, showed exactly what Napoli is missing to take the mantle as the hipsters’ favourite football team. The definition of a hipster (a person who follows the latest trends and fashions, especially those regarded as being outside the cultural mainstream) tells us that it’s time that we find someone to replace Borussia Dortmund, which have carried the crown for quite some time- after all you can only be the latest trend for so long…

    AMOYAL: Can Napoli become the new Borussia Dortmund?
    There are some obvious reasons why Napoli is an ideal successor to Borussia Dortmund- they’ve been the runner up in a league dominated by a super power, they play an offensive and entertaining style of football, they have a coach with a very distinctive tactical identity and personality which makes him into an almost cult figure, and they replace the big stars (who inevitably leave) with exciting young prospects.
    But there are a few areas in which they need to improve to become more likeable and marketable to a broad audience, especially outside of Italy. When it comes to tactics and developing players you would be hard pressed to find a better coach than Maurizio Sarri in Serie A, but the match against Atalanta- and especially how he handled the media afterwards- show that there is room for growth.
    But before we get to what needs to get better, let’s look at all the things Napoli is doing really well. While president Aurelio De Laurentiis is mainly known for being very tough to deal with in negotiation for extensions or to sell players, he has done remarkable work since taking over the club after it went bankrupt in 2004. The club had to start over from the third division during the 2004-05 season, by 2007-08 they were back in Serie A- since De Laurentiis took over, Napoli has turned a profit almost every single year- something that is extremely rare in Italian football.

    AMOYAL: Can Napoli become the new Borussia Dortmund?
    De Laurentiis has been able to obtain very good results on the pitch while improving his club’s balance sheet by investing in numerous promising young players- he has made a small fortune by developing and selling players like Cavani and Lavezzi.  Napoli has certainly shown a knack for investing in the right strikers- they went from Cavani to Higuain (while pocketing an extra 20 million) to then Milik, who cost about 60 million less than what they received for Higuain.
    While it certainly was shocking to see Juventus exercise Higuain’s 90 million euro exit clause, Napoli made the best of it- in addition to the previously mentioned Milik, they invested in numerous young players like Zielinski, Diawara and Rog while also extending the contracts of key players like Koulibaly and Hysaj. Milik has gotten off to a sensational start since replacing Higuain, it certainly helps that he has a great supporting cast that Napoli acquired over the years for excellent values. Callejon has already scored 50 goals for them in all competitions; his excellent performances for Sarri have earned him a well deserved selection to the Spanish national team.  

    AMOYAL: Can Napoli become the new Borussia Dortmund?
    Callejon’s work rate makes him an invaluable starter, on the opposite side Mertens has performed so well that he’s keeping Napoli native Lorenzo Insigne on the bench pretty often. Milik has made the best out of having such strong wingers, and the offensive trio gets excellent support from Jorginho, Allan and captain Hamsik in the midfield.
    Anyone who watches Serie A regularly isn’t surprised to see Allan and Jorginho striving at the San Paolo. They were both acquired for around 30 million combined, and their value has easily doubled playing for Sarri- Napoli is hoping they can do the same with Zielinski and Diawara who fit a similar profile. They both have experience starting in Serie A and their value is expected to go up in coming season.
    But to become the hipster team you need more than just promising players- you need to play an appealing style of play. To do so Napoli had to find the right coach to replace Rafa Benitez, who at least deserves the credit for being the driving force for the acquisitions of Higuain, Callejon, Albiol and Reina. 
    De Laurentiis found the right coach in Maurizio Sarri who never managed full time until the age of 40. Prior to that, Sarri was a successful bank manager who pursued managing football players as a hobby. He finally reached Serie A with Empoli in 2014 at the age of 55, but while he got a very late start he made a name for himself very quickly.

    AMOYAL: Can Napoli become the new Borussia Dortmund?
    When Empoli played against Milan at San Siro back in 2014, Silvio Berlusconi had flash backs to Arrigo Sacchi whom he hired after Parma (who was in Italy’s second division at the time) gave a tactical lesson to the rossoneri. Sarri’s impressive defensive pressing and fluid passing on offence was like a breath of fresh air, his Empoli attacked while playing away against Italy’s top sides- he embodied the mantra that the best defense is a good offence. 
    Under Sarri at Napoli Higuain had his best season ever, breaking an over 60 year old scoring record in Serie A, while younger players like Koulibaly and Jorginho vastly improved. While many mocked Napoli for celebrating fact they finished second in Serie A, the partenopei got the last laugh since Roma was eliminated in the preliminary round of the Champions League after finishing third- in addition having the guaranteed revenue of the CL also allowed Napoli to get a jump start on their transfer activity.
    But there are still some areas in which Napoli needs to improve to become the unanimous hipster team. While Sarri is a tactical genius he still needs to improve with the way he handles the media as well as his player turnover. After the match against Genoa, Sarri asked pubblically that his club support him more with his complaints on perceived poor referee decisions- the following day De Laurentiis issued a statement saying that the club accepts facts that referee decisions  can sometimes not go your way but that shouldn’t be used as an alibi.
    If that weren’t enough, after the loss against Atalanta, Sarri complained about the state of the pitch as well as the fact his player hadn’t played at 3 in the afternoon since last April. Sarri of course didn’t look at the fact he has once again run Jorginho into the ground by playing him too much- but maybe managing turnover better will come with time.
    Because by definition hipsters are always looking for the latest trend, it’s time to find a heir to Borussia Dortmund as the “cool team” to follow- Napoli has many of the ingredients, with just a few adjustments they can take the crown.

    David Amoyal

    David Amoyal is the manager of the English page on Gianluca Di Marzio's website where he also writes weekly articles. David covers transfer news for ESPN, and has appeared on numerous radio shows on Sirius XM in the US as well as TalkSport in the UK. David is the former editor in chief of Vavel USA and his articles have been featured in many sites around the world. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidAmoyal

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