The international break could not have come at a better time for the Partenopei. After a dismal start to the campaign, one in which Napoli were expected to go in all guns blazing and possibly force Juventus to relinquish their 8-year hegemony at the apex of the Italian top-flight; they find themselves languishing at 7th place in Serie A. After six matches without a win, Carlo Ancelotti and his men have come under massive scrutiny – both, from the fans and the media for their mutinous expressions against the club president.
There seems to be no respite for the fallen either, the next match against Liverpool at Anfield could be season-defining for the manager and the players.
After a disappointing 1-1 draw against RB Salzburg in the Champions League, the players and the management were ordered to head to a punitive ‘ritiro’ – a traditional retreat often followed by a series of disappointing showings by the players of the club. This belittling mandate coming from Aurelio De Laurentiis was rejected by the players, especially Dries Mertens, Allan and the club captain Lorenzo Insigne – who reported to the vice-president that they would go to their homes and not report for special training.
It led to an obvious falling out between the president and the players – who were backed by Carlo Ancelotti. De Laurentiis, one of the most vocal and demanding presidents in modern-day football, reportedly threatened the players by docking their wages by 25% and take legal action against them for such rebellious displays of behaviour.
The Italian film producer is not one to bite his tongue and has done exceptional business in recent years to build the club from the ground up while selling his star players at a premium. But at the same time, many feel that his criticisms are unwarranted and unnecessarily create situations which lead to it being dissected in the media.
Il #Napoli scende in campo per l’allenamento a porte aperte (per gli abbonati)
— Claudio Russo (@claudioruss) November 7, 2019
Sadly, the problem does not begin and end within the club. The Napoli Ultras took it hard after the players and manager failed to comply with their old and rich traditions. Around 150 Napoli Ultras protested outside the San Paolo, demanding respect and branding players ‘mercenaries’ after their 1-1 draw in the Champions League. Their Ultras, a proud bunch, took it upon themselves to threaten the players and punish them for not following the traditions of the legendary football club.
Allan’s house was burgled in Naples by the fans of the club while his 7-month pregnant wife was in the building. Piotr Zielinski’s car was vandalised and was forced to send his family elsewhere until things reached a conclusion. It is also reported the Napoli players have hired bodyguards to protect themselves from their own fans.
In addition to that, many of Napoli’s core players find themselves to be at the end of their contracts, players like Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens’ contracts are due to expire in June. Arkadiusz Milik, Piotr Zielinski, Elseid Hysaj and five other squad players are bound till 2021. The question remains that, do these feelings of partisanship from the fans act as a catalyst in players’ decisions to leave the club? If so, does it open the door for other stars to walk out of the club as well? Do Italian clubs have the same power in the market as their counterparts from other leagues?
Two months after the racism debacle following abuse towards Romelu Lukaku by the Cagliari Ultras, and mere weeks after Mario Balotelli urged the fans to do something about the hostile atmosphere within the stadiums, Serie A – one of the most prestigious leagues in the history of the sport must do something about the negative fan culture that surrounds it. Perhaps one of the sadder things is how the Italian Federation has treated these misdemeanours in the past – by turning a blind eye towards the inhuman gestures against players who cause the fans even the slightest of inconveniences. Cagliari ultras, responsible for repeated racist offences have been let off with a mere slap on the wrist twice in months, whereas Brescia ultras complied with Verona’s statement that Balotelli would ‘never be a real Italian.’
The repeated vitriolic gestures toward the players are doing the whole league a disservice while spoiling the good name of the footballing country which boasts of the most world cups in all of Europe.
In times like these, where fan-culture is being minimised to make way for commercial businesses and appealing to the outside world for a larger fanbase, the beauty of football is being discarded. In Italy, football remains a fan-oriented business. It certainly appeals to the romantic. Fans provide a natural resistance to anything that stands in the way of football-culture and fan-involvement within the country. And while that is a beautiful aspect seemingly unique in most commercialised leagues of top footballing nations, a certain section of supporters seem to take it to the extra mile whilst forgetting where to draw the line.
And why is that important? It’s because people have started to take notice.
And here’s the reason why I decided not to play there when I could… And at that point I wish all the black players would get out of this league! Surely it won’t stop their stupidity and hate but at least they won’t affect other races. https://t.co/whu1XexYmy
— Demba Ba (@dembabafoot) September 4, 2019
Demba Ba recently took to Twitter to voice his frustrations about certain Italian fan groups and how they felt entitled to declare their dissatisfactions towards players; often in a derogatory manner that has nothing to do with football and taking a ‘psychological advantage’ over the other. Often, it leads to traumatic experiences for the players, and while only a small section of fans are to blame, the entire league and the perception towards the fans get swept up in the whole kerfuffle.
It won’t be long after another player urges other professionals not to enter the country for their sporting ventures, in the day and age of social media where opinions matter more than ever, it doesn’t take long for people to drag the good name of such a prestigious organisation through the mud. When that happens, Serie A might find itself clawing out of comparative irrelevance, as opposed to its top European counterparts.
Written by Anaamaya Mishra
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