Never has qualifying for the Champions League given such a large headache to a club and their President. At Napoli Aurelio De Laurentiis is the victim, as he now discovers the extent of the choices he has to make with regards to the future of his club over the next few years.
Their success this season under Coach Walter Mazzarri has been remarkable, and barring an astonishing late collapse they should finish sufficiently high enough in the table to qualify automatically for the Champions League group stages. With it comes a guaranteed €7.2m, plus €800,000 for each win and €400,000 for each draw. Add on top of that Napoli’s share of the ‘market pool’ – a sum based on a country’s TV market value – and the gate receipts for each match, and you end up with a total of around €20m (Italian clubs generally receive well over €10m each for their share of the market pool).
It is a huge financial boost for any club, let alone one that was bankrupt only seven years ago. Since then, De Laurentiis has worked wonders to make the club stable off the pitch – introducing a salary cap for the squad being the main contributor – but has also managed to build a squad that can compete towards the top of the table.
But now Edinson Cavani looks like he could throw a spanner in the works as he seeks a new contract with a higher salary. He is on €1.8m per season – the highest paid player at the club, but paling in comparison to the best players at teams around Napoli in the table. Both Cavani and his agent realise how important he is to the Partenopei, and how valuable his goals have been to the team this season, and seem to be pushing for an increase that would break the salary cap at the club.
It leaves De Laurentiis in a difficult position. Cavani knows there will be a guaranteed boost in revenue from the Champions League, and so the money would theoretically be available to give him the rise he wants. But Champions League football for Napoli is not certain each season, and even less so next year when the number of spots falls to three in Serie A. It is hard enough to compete when there are four slots, let alone with only three, and even more so with the expected rejuvenation of both Roma and Juventus for the 2010/11 campaign.
There are essentially two options – the first is to give the star player what he wants, keeping him happy and motivated for a new season. The second is to refuse the requested pay rise, stick to the financial principles and risk the player demanding a transfer away.
Option one could put the club’s financial future in jeopardy. If Champions League football is present for one season the revenues will soon fall, leaving the club with a player on an unsustainable wage, not to mention any others who may also feel they deserve a rise above the salary cap.
Option two ensures the finances are kept in order and the club will benefit immensely from the UEFA money, even if it is for one season only. At the same time, Cavani may become unsettled and Napoli may lose their best player to a club who can pay the wages he wants. Of course, their finances will be even healthier from the inevitable profit that would follow from any sale of the Uruguayan, but his absence would seriously decrease their chances of featuring in Europe’s top club competition next year.
Off-the-pitch stability vs. on-the-pitch ambition – it is a balancing act that De Laurentiis needs to get right.