Walter Mazzarri Left Napoli At Just The Wrong Time
Finishing third in 2010/11, second a year ago becoming a fixture in the Champions League meant that things were looking rosy for Napoli this summer as they looked to progress their squad forward to become genuine Scudetto challengers.
The boat was rocked a little by Paris Saint-Germain swooping to pluck talismanic Uruguayan forward Edinson Cavani. The Partenopei were left to dust themselves down with the proceeds of a record €64 million transfer fee for their troubles, though the saga rumbled on longer than would have been wanted as a result of the striker’s participation in the Confederations Cup.
President Aurelio De Laurentiis insisted that money would be reinvested in the squad, and with the addition of funds from another participation in the Champions League, ensured that Napoli looked a safe bet to remain a formidable force in an otherwise cash-strapped Serie A.
Replacing the Uruguayan was always going to be a difficult task, but picking out targets with a budget as large as De Laurentiis allowed would make the reshaping job a lot easier than it might have been; the opposite of Roma, who paid out noticeably less for their transfers than they recouped in sales.
With such a large fee having been secured for Cavani, the main business done by the Azzurri would see a number of new players coming in – adding to a squad who had already proved themselves more than capable of thriving in Serie A.
All in all, Napoli looked an appealing proposition at the end of last season for players, fans and coaches alike. Unless you were a long-haired South American striker, Naples was the place to be.
It was from that position that Walter Mazzarri, who had coached his counter-attacking philosophy at the Stadio San Paolo for four seasons, decided to leave the club for Inter, who finished ninth. It was a decision that left people wondering if he had jumped ship at precisely the wrong time.
On the face of it, moving to a club who won the European Cup only three seasons ago and has a huge fanbase, around not just Italy but the world, was a sensible move.
No matter that they were coming off a low season, with coaching experiment Andrea Stramaccioni leaving the club without European football for the first time since 1999. It is as if Inter still seem to be suffering the hangover after their Champions League victory, as if the departure of Jose Mourinho left them without direction and their aging squad has been unable to adequately rage against the dying of the light.
Under Stramaccioni, Inter were often criticised of playing with a small club’s style, allowing opponents to pressurise them, and try to hit out on the counter-attack – a tactic employed to great success by Mourinho, but reliant on players who are not just quick with their feet, but their minds, too; players who looked in short supply last season.
That said, Mazzarri, himself an exponent of counter-attacking football, has managed to guide Inter well from the start of the season, and has seen their form impress despite shortages in the squad. Crucially, after the trouncing of Sassuolo, he is able to welcome back Diego Milito after a serious injury.
Of course, the Argentinian scored on his return, though that was perhaps more due to the Neroverde’s fragility than a confirmation that ‘Diegol’ can be relied on as back to his best. Either way, having such an influential player back in the Nerazzurri fold can only help the new coach; as the cliché has it, he will be like a new signing for the club.
The Biscione’s start has been surprising in a number of ways.
The players Mazzarri brought into the club weren’t necessarily expected to shine from the start; Mauro Icardi, Ishak Belfodil and Saphir Taider are all young, but all dynamic enough to suggest that Inter will be eventually attempting to re-create Napoli’s style, but as it turns out only Taider has made an impact on the first team thus far.
The new coach arrived fairly early into Inter’s rebuilding process. There are a few players at their peak in the team, in Yuto Nagatomo and Fredy Guarin, and a few players who are yet to achieve their best, like Andrea Ranocchia and Juan Jesus.
Then again, with Esteban Cambiasso at 33 and Rodrigo Palacio, at 31, seemingly both mainstays in his team, there is still plenty to do in this regard, although with so many talented younger players waiting in the wings, this may well end up being a transitional season for Inter.
What has certainly happened is that the instant pick-me-up of the new coach has ignited a fire in Inter’s belly and the squad, both young and old, are responding well. It should come as no surprise after Mazzarri stated his intention to make ‘Inter competitive again as soon as possible’.
Players who seemed out of place last season have thrived this year in an unusual 3-5-1-1 formation, with Ricky Alvarez and Rodrigo Palacio looking as threatening as they ever have in blue and black shirts and veteran signing Hugo Campagnaro (brought in from Mazzari’s former club) marshalling the defence wonderfully.
The results have been instant, and dramatic. Following a well-deserved draw in the Derby del’Italia with Inter’s biggest ever away win should only serve to indicate that this Nerazzurri side aren’t a flash in the pan and being able to perform so well while their city rivals are floundering must make it all the sweeter for Interisti.
Despite their start to the season, none of Inter’s recent successes on the field come anything like matching the atmosphere in Naples. The club’s first win at AC Milan in 27 years came shortly after a glorious night against last season’s European Cup finalists Borussia Dortmund. The team’s form, particularly that of Lorenzo Insigne and Marek Hamsik, has been captivating.
Their former coach must be aware the status Neapolitans afford their heroes, and those who bring footballing success to the city are coveted like no others – Marek Hamsik stated that players “are like divinities to fans”. Although part of Italy, Naples can feel like a city apart.
It is unlikely that Diego Maradona would have suggested that his adopted city’s fans should cheer for him and against their country, as he did in the World Cup of 1990, anywhere else. Walking round Naples in the aftermath of Italy’s 2006 World Cup victory, there was far more graffiti sprayed on walls praising the efforts of Fabio Cannavaro as ‘Minister of Defence’, than the team as a whole.
That chance of a lasting legacy with a club, and a city, that would remember him has been passed up by Walter Mazzarri by moving to Inter this summer. To see Rafael Benitez parachute in and take his team forward with the addition of a few players from his native Spain must be difficult for the 51-year-old, particularly knowing that his own project is still so far from completion even if it has got off, as he said ‘on the right foot’.
In truth, if he left Napoli to win things, Mazzarri will probably have a longer wait at his new club than he would with his old.
The potential that Inter have should they become successful again, however, outreaches that of Napoli, whose successful periods in the past have been explosive, but brief. Inter lay claim to the second biggest fanbase in Italy, and eighth biggest in Europe. Even acknowledging that those figures may be exaggerated, there are far more Inter fans than those of the Partenopei.
Long-term success in Italy has, historically, only been possible in Milan and Turin. As such, taking a job with Inter is a safer bet than staying with Napoli, even if the balance of power is tipped heavily in the Azzurri’s favour at the current time.
It might well turn out that Walter Mazzarri left the Partenopei just before his groundwork reaped the reward of silverware. It would be a shame for him if it turned out to be so, but if to start again with a new club and a new project, it makes sense to do so as soon as possible. Additionally, chances to manage Italy’s big clubs don’t come around too often, so one must take them when they do.
For now, with Inter doing so well, leaving Napoli looks to be an understandable choice. There may, however, be some envious looks down the country from the San Siro’s dugouts should the Nerazzurri falter during the season.