Napoli are at a crossroads. Two of the most fundamental individuals to their memorable Scudetto triumph in manager Luciano Spalletti and sporting director Cristiano Giuntoli could soon be departing the club.
The pair are eternally popular in the city of Naples but every love story can come to an end.
The relationship between Spalletti and club president Aurelio De Laurentiis has taken a hit after several events in recent months, leading to the likely exit of the popular Italian coach.
‘It’s not a question of wings to put on your shoulders but of boots to put on your feet,’ the 64-year-old said last week, making clear in a typically calm manner he would probably be leaving the club at the end of the season.
Napoli’s triumph this year had the potential to open up an exceptional cycle of success but news of Spalletti’s impending exit has sent fear and worry through fans.
Why is he leaving right now? Why does he not want to chase a second Scudetto in a row? Everyone understands Napoli’s championship-winning season was deserved but without Spalletti, it feels like an isolated case due to the extraordinary beauty of the achievement.
There are fears that the club will fail to build on this success and struggle, but Napoli are a team who have always taken courageous choices.
Kalidou Kouliably, Dries Mertens, Fabian Ruiz and David Ospina were all sold last year, but they still managed to win their first Scudetto in 33 years.
‘Courage’ is the buzzword of De Laurentiis and a new chapter without Spalletti could present a new chance for glory. However, Napoli will have to radically change the way they play if they lose their title-winning coach.
The Italian is an advocate of a fluid 4-3-3 formation that evolves into a 4-2-3-1 and none of the coaches to have been linked with Napoli play like this. Former Bayern Munich coach Julian Nagelsmann is one and the current favourite.
However, the German tends to prefer a three-man defence and surely whoever Spalletti replaces wouldn’t radically alter such a successful set-up and structure.
De Laurentiis is said to want to bring in a big name to help Napoli supporters move on from Spalletti and Italian media reports suggest a delegation from the club has already met Naglesmann’s agent in Rome.
Others linked with the role include Antonio Conte and Rafa Benitez – who spent two years as Napoli coach between 2013 to 2015. However, there are potential issues with both of these experienced coaches.
Benitez hasn’t managed at a top European team since 2016 when he was sacked by Real Madrid and has been out of a job since leaving Everton in January 2022.
It is therefore a tough ask to go straight from that into a role the size of Napoli.
Meanwhile, we’ve seen how combustible Conte can be this year at Tottenham and his salary – which at Inter was around £8.7m a year – is unaffordable and undesirable for a club like Napoli.
The job is an attractive one and should attract distinguished candidates, while several younger coaches like Fiorentina boss Vincenzo Italiano, 45, and Monza head coach Raffaele Palladino, 39, are also not to be ruled out.
Nevertheless, whoever arrives will have to deal with uncertainty over several of their star players.
Kim Min-jae has been linked with a £56m move to Manchester United, while there is interest in others like top scorer Victor Osimhen along with Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.
Min-jae is probably most at risk of leaving because he has a release clause that could be activated this summer and United see him as an improvement if they can move on Harry Maguire.
Elsewhere, Osimhen is the most sought-after, with the striker valued at £100m – a stratospheric amount that hasn’t scared Arsenal and Chelsea from showing their interest.
De Laurentiis could find himself forced into a tricky position where he weighs up the positives of keeping Osimhen against taking the money and reinvesting it in three top players.
Back in March, the Nigerian told Sky he would like to play in the Premier League and that he was trying to work hard every day in Italy in order to get that opportunity in the future. But Napoli’s chances of bringing players in is limited due to the uncertainty over Giuntoli’s future, with the sporting director linked with Juventus.
He is yet to come to a final decision over his future, meaning De Laurentiis is left waiting and it would be a big blow to lose someone so highly regarded, while it increases the difficulty of finding potential replacements for Min-jae and Osimhen this summer and puts the club in a state of limbo.
It remains to be seen what happens next, but it promises to be an intriguing summer in the south of Italy.