Hyperactive Gennaro Gattuso might just be what Napoli need after calm reign of Carlo Ancelotti
Sudden availability of world-class managers adds another dimension to football market
Carlo Ancelotti had a little under four hours to enjoy his historic night. Four goals, including a first Napoli hat-trick ever in the Champions League from Arkadiusz Milik, had swiftly killed off Genk and assured qualification for the last 16. At the final whistle, there were telling moments of communion between coach and some of his players. And at 22 minutes to midnight, Ancelotti’s sacking was announced.
It is rare for a manager to be fired immediately after a 4-0 win and straight after he has satisfied one of the key requirements of the job: progress in the most prestigious of club competitions.
But Ancelotti knew what was coming well before kick-off at a subdued San Paolo on Tuesday. Napoli are seventh in Serie A and had won none of their previous eight games, going back into October, which was when the club president Aurelio de Laurentiis last announced: “I want Carlo on the bench here for the next 10 years.”
His reign lasted 16 months, a little longer than Ancelotti’s previous job at Bayern Munich where he won the Bundesliga. Armed with his stunning list of medals from various leagues and his three European Cups, he now contemplates offers from marquee clubs in Europe and rich ones all over the world.
But Ancelotti, 60, will also recognise that he is not alone in the marketplace. There are several distinguished, worldly managers without work right now and waiting for the right call.
It is an unusual scenario. Among the freshly unemployed are: the manager who has won a record three Champions League titles (Ancelotti); the manager who has won a record three Europa League titles and a silver medal in that competition last May (Unai Emery); plus managers who have between them taken teams to three of the last six Champions League finals (Max Allegri and Mauricio Pochettino).
Normally, managers with such reputations can set their own demands, and would naturally resist taking the next job hurriedly in mid-season; which is what Everton, having sacked Marco Silva, and Arsenal, post-Emery, have both been contemplating offering to Ancelotti since his availability became likely. Aware that, by next summer, the openings might be fewer, there is a temptation to jump straight back in, as Jose Mourinho did at Spurs last month.
The Arsenal vacancy is understood to be attractive to Ancelotti, who guided Chelsea to the Premier League title in 2010. He likes London and English football.
His glittering CV – titles in Italy with AC Milan; in France with Paris Saint-Germain; and Germany and England as well as all those European Cups, one with Real Madrid, two with Milan – trumps almost any coach of his generation although the experience of the last two months has been trying.
Ancelotti’s celebrated gift for understated, sympathetic man-management was tested in Naples. When De Laurentiis, angered at a 2-1 defeat to Roma, ordered the squad to go into ‘retreat’ at a hotel away from their families last month, the manager seemed to equivocate between supporting the president and backing his players’ protests at what they saw as punishment.
During the retreat, there was no significant managerial magic, either. Napoli took three points from their next four games. “We had lost confidence, which is normal when you aren’t winning,” said Kalidou Koulibaly, the central defender, an Ancelotti loyalist. “But we played with all our hearts and the president knows that.”
Ancelotti’s replacement at Napoli is going to be someone who wears his heart very much on his sleeve. Gennaro Gattuso, who left AC Milan last season, was earlier sounded out by De Laurentiis as the figure to inject verve into the campaign. And on Wednesday night, Gattuso was unveiled as Napoli manager.
At 41, he is still a relative novice and has a chequered managerial history, but made Milan competitive on a relatively restricted budget.
The Napoli president believes Gattuso will suit the San Paolo. Gattuso comes from the Italian south, and in many ways comes across as Ancelotti’s opposite: hyperactive and animated to Ancelotti’s measured, calm demeanour. Despite that, the two men are good friends, Ancelotti having been Gattuso’s coach and mentor during a successful Milan era from 2001 to 2009.
He has come to admire Gattuso as a coach, too. “When I see you on the bench shouting and cajoling players, I know you are right for management,” Ancelotti said in a tribute to Gattuso on his 40th birthday. “Your exuberance diffuses tensions and your passion wakes up the sleepy.” It sounds like the medicine Napoli need.
Updated: December 11, 2019 10:13 PM