For seven straight seasons, Juventus have held Serie A to ransom. The Old Lady has consistently reigned supreme while giving no quarter to opposition clubs seeking to dethrone them. The likes of Napoli, AS Roma, Lazio, and the Milan giants have each been left queuing behind Juventus, playing second fiddle as they scramble for the remaining spots at the top of the table. Meanwhile, the Turin side have made winning the Scudetto something close to a birthright.
Napoli and Roma have consistently bettered the other contenders in recent seasons, locking up the remaining two Champions League places awarded to Serie A. That was before the UEFA rule change that has allowed a fourth team to join the contingent to next season’s Champions League football.
Sarri so close
However, after years of dominance for Juventus, it seems that the tables could be about to turn in Serie A. Last season, Juventus were given a serious run for their money as Napoli made a determined push for what would have been the club’s third title in its history.
Gli Azzurri asked serious questions of Massimiliano Allegri’s side, and came close to dethroning the seemingly perpetual champions. Despite, however, securing a 1-0 win over Juventus in late April, Maurizio Sarri’s men still contrived to lose the title in the final weeks of the season.
Sarri’s time with the club was destined to come to an end at the conclusion of last season’s spirited campaign. This isn’t to say that finishing second in the league table was a particularly poor outcome, though. It was rather a matter of several factors making his continuation at the club unlikely. With controversy trailing him, and a third successive season failure to unseat Juventus, Sarri was simply over-extended.
The former banker’s problems started when he directed extremely insulting homophobic epithets at then Inter Milan manager, Roberto Manchini, during a Coppa Italia quarter-final between the two clubs in 2016. Sarri was fined €20,000 and given a two-match ban in the competition by the Italian football authorities. But that was only the beginning of his troubles at the Stadio San Paolo. Sarri’s relationship with the media continued to worsen, leading to him storming out of a press conference in 2017.
But even though Napoli chief Aurelio De Laurentilis was willing to extend his contract beyond 2020 — based on the team’s performance on the pitch — Sarri seemed to have grown tired of life in Naples. This may have resulted from his running battles with the media, or his frustration over Juventus’ continuous dominance — more likely, it was a combination of the two.
No one saw it coming
Sarri’s reluctance to put pen to paper pressured the club hierarchy into seeking alternatives. There was only one goal in mind: Find a manager who can take Napoli to the summit, thereby breaking Juve’s dominance and stranglehold on the Scudetto. Even though Antonio Conte had been tipped as the man to get the job done, the availability of Carlo Ancelotti lined the stars perfectly in Napoli’s favour. Acquiring him was an easy decision.
The widely traveled Italian manager is one of the most successful coaches in the game today. He is one of only three managers to have won the three Champions League titles. With his experience of delivering trophies at the top level in all the top five leagues in Europe, Ancelotti’s hiring was nothing but a real coup against Juventus. No one saw it coming.
Having won the league title with AC Milan, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich, he is the best man to end Juve’s Serie A dominance. Ancelotti is also vastly experienced in the UEFA Champions League, having led AC Milan and Real Madrid to glory in the competition. It is also important to note that he began his managerial career with Juventus and led the club to win the UEFA Intertoto Cup in 1999. He lost that year’s league title to Lazio by a single point in the final day of the season, and a second runner-up finish the following season led to his dismissal.
Ancelotti won’t mind
Ancelotti has since learned the lessons from his spell with the Old Lady, and now possesses one of the most impressive resume’s in world football. Napoli gives him the opportunity to pay Juventus back in their own coins. He is therefore motivated to take the Naples side above the Zebras.
As it is with Napoli, the Italian took over a trophyless Milan team after leaving Juve and led the Rossoneri to beat the Turin club in the 2003 Champions League final at Old Trafford. He also won the Coppa Italia that year in an historic season for Internazionale. The next season Ancelotti added the Scudetto to his trophy haul with the club. And before leaving Inter for Chelsea in 2009, he also won another CL trophy, that time in 2007. Moreover, Ancelotti has been crowned league champion in every club he has managed ever since.
There is no reason to think that Napoli will be different. Ancelotti is precisely the right man to lift the Naples side through the ceiling with which they have clashed for the last handful of league campaigns. And when it happens, it will be at Juve’s expense. Ancelotti, for one, won’t mind. Neither will Napoli fans.