Livescore Thursday, April 25
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From the terrace of the Britannique hotel to a table at Coco Loco, Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis and his chief executive Andrea Chiavelli wined and dined Luciano Spalletti.

It was a Friday night, a “thanksgiving” dinner. A few days earlier, Napoli had beaten Fiorentina in their first home game since winning the title. A drone overhead captured the massed crowds outside the gates and the fireworks going off in other parts of the city as generations of Neapolitans celebrated the club’s first Scudetto in 33 years.

De Laurentiis, Chiavelli and Spalletti had been meaning to get together, just the three of them. The dinner was, as De Laurentiis tells it, held in “good spirits”. “The president always picks a good bottle of vino. Wine isn’t something I know much about,” Spalletti winked. Yeah, right. He only runs a Tuscan vineyard producing Bordocampo (Sideline); a side hustle, if you will, in bottling Sangiovese.

On the menu at Coco Loco was a sharing plate requiring everyone’s approval before the order went to the kitchen. Let’s call it the future of Napoli.

“It’s never easy holding meetings in Neapolitan restaurants,” Spalletti said. “You’ve always got a mouthful of something delicious.”

Any intolerances? It’s a question waiters tend to ask out of courtesy these days and a lack of respect is something Spalletti has never easily swallowed.

Shortly after Napoli’s elimination from the Champions League quarter-finals in April, a new notification landed in his inbox. It wasn’t a Burofax. It was a PEC, a certified email, from Napoli exercising the option to extend his expiring contract until 2024.

While the club were perfectly within their rights to activate the small print in his deal, the abrupt nature of it — without warning or consultation — took Spalletti aback. Call it old-fashioned but he would have appreciated a chat, maybe over one of the Napoli kitman Tommy Starace’s coffees because formalities are one thing, feelings are another.

While De Laurentiis was going around insisting Spalletti would still be in their dugout next season, his coach claimed he had been told no such thing face-to-face. “He should be telling that to me, not you,” he bristled.

Unwittingly, it looks like Coco Loco may have played host to the Last Supper. The restaurant’s location near Naples’ Piazza dei Martiri (Martyrs’ Square) could not, in hindsight, have been more apt.

The prickly Spalletti has always been a man of principle. It’s why he walked out on Roma in the summer of 2017 despite the club’s then-owner Jim Pallotta doing everything to retain him after a club-record points total the previous season. The disrespect shown to Spalletti by Roma icon Francesco Totti, who dedicated a disproportionate amount of his biography to the final year of his career and even made a TV series about it, casting the coach as a villain, was simply too much to bear.

De Laurentiis’ plans for a TV series about Napoli’s 2022-23 Scudetto will presumably roll the end credits in Udine, where the title was won on May 4 with five games to spare, rather than include the remainder of the campaign; that PEC and the night out at Coco Loco chief among the deleted scenes.

In some respects, this outcome should not come as a complete surprise.

To borrow the idiom Spalletti used, it’s not as if the weather suddenly turned from sunshine to pouring rain. Anyone standing on the seafront in Naples could see the clouds blowing in. 

After all, this is what happens with De Laurentiis. The movie mogul is renowned as ‘fumantino’, a fiery personality, who flames-out dramatically with coaches. He has gone through four in the last five years, Spalletti included, and often it’s been a case of them tiring of him — something he’s come to begrudgingly accept.

“When your wife decides to fuck someone else, she fucks someone else,” he memorably said of Walter Mazzarri’s decision to leave for Inter a decade ago. He branded Maurizio Sarri “a traitor” after he departed in summer 2018 on the back of a club record points total (91) which even this season’s team may not beat (they have 86 with two games to go). Sarri joined Chelsea, with the “vulgar excuse” of a big payday after years managing in Italy’s lower leagues, earning a relative pittance.

But in Spalletti’s case, this is neither about running off with someone else, nor is it about the money irrespective of the fact he’s only the sixth-highest-paid coach in Serie A.

“I’m privileged,” he said. “I’ve earned a bob or two in my career” — as that vineyard in Tuscany and apartment in Milan’s spectacular Bosco Verticale suggest. “If you’re not sure about being able to give this place everything it deserves, then it’s only right to give (your future) consideration. And when you’ve given it consideration, you draw a conclusion.”

Spalletti’s mind is made up. And who can begrudge him going out on a high?

Having turned 64 in March, he just became the oldest coach to win the Scudetto for the first time. But age isn’t believed to be too much of a factor here. He is close to retirement, but he isn’t retiring.

What about the life cycle of his team?

The new champions expect Premier League vultures to circle over the Bay of Naples in the coming months. However, fear of the team being picked apart isn’t the sort of thing to scare Spalletti off. He stayed last summer, after all, despite losing David Ospina, Kalidou Koulibaly, Fabian Ruiz, Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens.

Another revolution, at least in terms of player overhaul, is not anticipated. Unlike Inter Milan, whose financial crisis prompted Antonio Conte to leave swiftly after winning Serie A two years ago, Napoli find themselves in a position to resist offers for the stars who don’t have a buy-out clause in their contracts like the one in central defender Kim Min-jae’s deal. A variable though could be the bearing Spalletti’s prospective departure has on players such as striker Victor Osimhen and how they view their future at the club.

Complicating matters further for De Laurentiis is Juventus’ pursuit of Napoli’s sporting director Cristiano Giuntoli.

While much of the scouting and talent identification for this summer’s transfer window will have already been carried out, the ‘fuga dei cervelli’ (brain drain) is a concern for fans. As a contingency, De Laurentiis will have been planning auditions at his Filmauro studios for a new coach and sporting director while simultaneously holding out hope of convincing the current ones to see out their contracts.

“But,” he admitted, “freedom is an immeasurable and invaluable commodity and I won’t clip anyone’s wings, just as I won’t let anybody clip mine.”

Flying off with someone else doesn’t seem to be in Spalletti’s plans. “I don’t know what he means by clipped wings. You’ll have to ask him,” he replied.  “It’s not germane to what we said over dinner. As for what I’m going to do, I don’t need a pair of wings for it. I need a pair of Wellington boots.”

Nobody in the press conference needed a past as a codebreaker to understand what he meant. Even the amateur cryptographers among the gathered reporters were able to discern that Spalletti’s intention next season is to be on his tractor up in Tuscany, feeding his ducks while on gardening leave as he serves out the one-year option Napoli exercise.   

Dinner in Italy, like the one at Coco Loco, often ends with an amaro, a bitter liqueur.

While Spalletti’s anticipated departure won’t cleanse the palate of the sweet success of Napoli’s first Scudetto since 1990, it will definitely take some digesting.

(Top photo: Elianto/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)



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