2008/09 – Expectations were running high for Napoli as they had secured a spot in the UEFA Cup and held a number of emerging stars in their squad. True to expectations, the Partenopei had a great start to the campaign with notable domestic performances, overcoming giants Fiorentina and Juventus. They lost in the first round of European competition, but the disappointment was short lived as they found themselves in the top four towards the end of 2008. The New Year started and a dismal run of winless matches ensued, cuing the hysteria and dismissal of Edy Reja. Roberto Donadoni arrived but did little to restore form ending the season in 12th place.
2009/10 – Once again, having been one of the most active clubs in the transfer market, expectations will be hard to manage. By splashing the cash to capture the likes of Fabio Quagliarella and Luca Cigarini to bolster the team, Donadoni will be expected to produce worthy results if he is to remain on good terms with fiery President Aurelio de Laurentiis. Producing a well oiled squad that works together will be a difficult task, especially as the expected starting line-up consists of several new faces in addition to the disgruntled Ezequiel Lavezzi. A strong team if the correct formation, that will utilise the strengths of the team, is chosen.
Transfer Campaign – Napoli was one of the few clubs that were not required to sell any players in order to afford new signings. One of the major problems with last season’s squad was the inadequacies of the back line, especially when supporting the 3-5-2 formation. Therefore, Napoli has been wise to invest in defenders Juan Zúñiga and Hugo Campagnaro. Both are speedy and strong enough to cope with the free-spirited and creative formation the Partenopei like to execute.
Donadoni has publicly stated his contentment with the way Pierpaolo Marino, the Director of Sport, has conducted the transfer campaign, especially as the club has managed to keep hold of their proven stars instead of having to forfeit their treasures to larger sides willing to bid insurmountable amounts. Only one question mark hangs and that is how a team with so many fresh faces can adapt to one another.
Fabio Quagliarella – Udinese – €18.75m
Luca Cigarini – Atalanta – €12m
Erwin Hoffer – Rapid Vienna – €5.5m
Hugo Campagnero – Sampdoria – €5m + co-ownership of Daniele Mannini
Morgan De Sanctis – Sevilla – €1.5m
Juan Zúñiga – Siena – €8.5m
Roberto De Zerbi – Avellino – end of loan
Erminio Rullo – Triestina – end of loan
Cristian Bucchi – Cesena – loan
Camillo Ciano – Lecco – loan
Mario D’Urso – Lecco – loan
Cosmo Palumbo – Lecco – loan
Luca Giannone – Lecco – loan
Andrea Russotto – Bellinzona – end of loan
Daniele Mannini – Sampdoria – €2m (co-ownership)
First XI – The 3-5-2 formation proved to be a poor choice for the Partenopei last season as their back line was crying out for reinforcements. However, with recent defensive signings the defence should be strong enough to cope with the tougher opposition. Manuele Blasi and Cigarini should prove decisive in winning the ball to link up with the creative Marek Hamšik and, provided that Lavezzi is forgiven, he should play alongside Quagliarella. Although with so many new starters, it may take time to produce a united team.
26 De Sanctis
13 Santacroce – 27 Cannavaro – 14 Campagnaro
11 Maggio – 8 Blasi – 21 Cigarini – 17 Hamšik 16 Zúñiga
7 Lavezzi – 27 Quagliarella
The Coach – A man who only truly proved himself during his brief time with Livorno, Roberto Donadoni is either below average or really unlucky as Coach. When Reja was sacked after having created miracles for the Partenopei, de Laurentiis was hoping that a change of Coach would motivate the squad. But Donadoni’s tranquil persona was unable to bring the sparkle back to the team. Blamed for the national team’s lack of creativity and inspiration during his brief stint, perhaps he was not the wisest choice.
He believes in a relaxed atmosphere to allow players to exploit their potential as pressure would destroy a team by attracting negativity. Famed for walking out on Livorno after the Chairman criticised his tactics, Donadoni will not take kindly to criticism, it remains to be seen how long it will take De Laurentiis to insult his Coach.
Team/reliable player – Despite falling out with the Napoli supporters at the end of the last campaign, Paolo Cannavaro remains a vital part of the team. His ability to guide and lead the team, his calm attitude and love for the shirt make him a great asset to the club. A reliable defender that is renowned for his tough tackling, he is always the first player on the team sheet and the one responsible with clearing everything away. With sturdier defenders on either side, we could see a vast improvement in his abilities, although it is doubtful that he will ever be as highly regarded as his brother.
Creative force – Marek Hamšik, the current Slovak footballer of the year, is undoubtedly the Partenopei’s most creative force. Having finished the last two seasons as Napoli’s top goal scorer, the attacking midfielder has truly lived up Aurelio de Laurentiis’ description as a star to watch. An intelligent player, he is incredibly unpredictable in his runs, making him difficult to mark as you never know which direction he is headed in. A specialist when it comes to the counter-attack, he also possesses the ability to shoot with either foot. There is no doubting that he will once again carry the team on his shoulders this term.
Youth prospect – Erwin Hoffer, the new 22-year-old signing from Rapid Vienna, could well be a star for the future. Napoli toyed with the idea of signing Julio Cruz or Goran Pandev but instead decided to opt for the youngster in the hope that he will fulfil his potential and explode on to Serie A. Known for his rapid runs and explosive nature, the player has the ability to cause all kind of problems for the opposing defence. He is able to play either as a first or second striker and last term he managed to score 27 goals in 34 appearances for the Austrian Team. One to watch out for.
Fixtures – Having failed to qualify for Europe, Napoli can throw themselves wholeheartedly into Serie A. The beginning of the season will not be easy as they will face Palermo, a team who have publicly declared their objective to win the league, in their first match away from home. Barring the second match at home to Livorno, the Partenopei will have a difficult journey as the first seven matches see them take on Inter, Genoa and Roma away. They then must face Milan and Juventus with only three days in-between. It will be an easier ride until January when they take on the powerhouses again but should be able to end comfortably.
Home grown players – Out of the entire Napoli squad, over 58% are Italian and home grown. The rest all hail from mainly South American countries. Out of the predicted starting XI, six of them are Italian, with many bench warmers also being home grown.
Predictions – Napoli has a formidable team with a creative attacking midfield and a talented strike force. Doubts loom over the defence but only time will tell how well the new signings will adapt. The team will need to rediscover their fluidity and creativity and they will not have much time as their tough fixtures are in the beginning. Donadoni may not be best Coach to reignite the fire within the side and in order for them to progress, he must learn to dismiss any advice and remain true to his style of play and experiment with different formations.
In terms of competition, it will be hard to overcome the top four, despite Milan’s problems, and the next four below will be tough to crack regardless of Genoa and Roma’s recent player departures. If Donadoni can learn to develop thicker skin to cope with the eventual and expected insults of the President, then a 7th place finish should be achievable.