Football Features

Why Carlo Ancelotti was sacked by Napoli despite matching Mourinho’s Champions League record

By Harry Edwards

Published: 22:50, 10 December 2019

Three-time Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti has been sacked by Napoli despite leading the club to the knockout stages of Europe’s premier club competition.

Arkadiusz Milik scored a first-half hat-trick before Dries Mertens capped off a 4-0 win over Genk on Tuesday evening, securing second spot in E unbeaten.

It was a game shrouded by rumours of Ancelotti’s future with some reports claiming the Italian would be taking charge of his final Napoli match.

After the man Ancelotti remained adamant that he would not resign, however, the Italian has now been sacked by the club.

A brief statement released by Napoli read: “SSC Napoli has decided to revoke the role of first team coach from Mr Carlo Ancelotti.

“The rapport of friendship, admiration and reciprocal respect between the club, its President and Carlo Ancelotti remain intact.”

So, where did it go wrong for Ancelotti?

A poor first season

Ancelotti took charge of Napoli in July 2018, replacing Maurizio Sarri who was on his way to Chelsea, and was tasked with continue the good job his compatriot was doing to take the Partenopei up the table.

But Ancelotti found things tough at the Stadio San Paolo, finishing 11 points behind Serie A winners Juventus — despite finishing second again — having been just four off the Bianconeri in Sarri’s final campaign. The Champions League wasn’t any kinder to Ancelotti as Napoli were handed a tough group alongside Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain.

Winning two and drawing three of their opening five games, Napoli just needed to avoid defeeat to Liverpool at Anfield to secure their place in the last-16 of the Champions League, joining group winners Paris Saint-Germain. But they lost 1-0, spurning numerous choices in the match, and were condemned to third place having scored fewer goals than Liverpool with whom they were tied on points. From a free-scoring Napoli side to a team whose lack of goals cost them a Champions League knockout place. This came in contrast to their league record, with only Atalanta scoring more Serie A goals than Napoli in 2018/19.

Napoli did manage to make it into the quarter-finals of the Europa League beating Zurich and Red Bull Salzburg but once again their lack of goals proved to be their downfall, losing 3-0 on aggregate to Arsenal.

2019/20’s on-pitch problems

While 2018/19 started brightly, the current campaign brought signs of problems from the off. A 4-3 win over Fiorentina on the opening day of the Serie A season raised more questions than it answered before a 4-3 defeat to Juventus came via the killer blow of an injury-time own goal from defensive rock Kalidou Koulibaly.

Six wins from their next nine games across all competitions, including a 2-0 win over Champions League holders Liverpool in the group stage, but then things started to move in the wrong direction. The subsequent nine games, prior to Tuesday’s clash with Genk, saw Napoli draw eight times and lose the other one, seeing the Partenopei drop to seventh in Serie A. After 15 games in Italy’s top flight Napoli are a massive 17 points behind league leaders Inter Milan and seven behind Atalanta, the team in sixth.

Although they did end that run with victory over Genk the damage was already done, partly down to problems off the pitch.

Problems behind the scenes

Despite their poor run of form this season, the biggest story surrounding Napoli was the “mutiny” of their players in early November.

After a 1-1 draw with Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League on November 5, Napoli’s stars to meant to remain at a training retreat enforced by owner Aurelio De Laurentiis until their game with Genoa four days later. Instead, they went to their homes, and Napoli released a statement essentially confirming they would take legal actions against the squad, while holding Ancelotti solely responsible.

Subscribe to Squawka’s Youtube channel here.

A statement read: “The club announces that, with reference to the behaviour of the players yesterday, Tuesday November 5 2019, it will proceed to protect its rights on an economic, capital, image and disciplinary levels in every competent jurisdiction.

“It is also made clear that the responsibility to decide on ordering days in a training retreat lies with coach Carlo Ancelotti.”

Napoli’s stars were eventually fined a total of £2m, according to the Daily Mail, but it only worsened Ancelotti’s relationship with De Laurentiis. It was a partnership already strained after disagreements over transfer policies in the summer, with Ancelotti wanted to act quickly before losing out on potential targets. Seven players in total were signed by Napoli including Hirving Lozano and Kostas Manolas.

And, according to reports shortly after the mutiny, De Laurentiis was ready to sack Ancelotti after believing the Italian had lost the faith of Napoli players but he was ultimately talked out of it by his lawyers. However, it has now happened.

What next for Napoli?

As Ancelotti prepared his Napoli side to face Genk, the Italian’s potential replacement was already being lined up. According to Italian journalist Fabrizio Romano, Gennaro Gattuso is set to become Napoli’s new manager, replacing the man under whom he played at AC Milan.

Gattuso has been out of work since leaving Milan in the summer having struggled to turn things around at a club going through serious transition. It was his fourth role as permanent manager, having also had spells with Palermo, OFI Crete and AC Pisa.

What next for Ancelotti?

A manager with prestige, Ancelotti is not going to be out of work for too long if he doesn’t wish to be. Napoli’s 4-0 win over Genk saw Ancelotti become just the second manager to reach the Champions League knockout stages with six different teams, joining Jose Mourinho, having added the Partenopei to Chelsea, AC Milan, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid.

Even before his departure was confirmed, Ancelotti was linked with a return to England where he previously enjoyed success with Chelsea. In his first season at Stamford Bridge the Italian led Chelsea to a Premier League and FA Cup double — the only one in the club’s history — and was a favourite among fans and players. He was sacked at the end of the following campaign after a disappointing second-placed finish combined with failure in the Champions League at a time when Roman Abramovich was at his most ruthless. But despite that unfortunate end, the Italian still represents a top option for Premier League clubs.

And a return to London could be on the cards with Arsenal currently searching for a new manager having recently sacked Unai Emery. Ancelotti would face competition from the likes of Mikel Arteta, Patrick Vieira and Marcelino but his CV dwarfs the trio combined.

Or, if Arsenal prefer to go in another direction, Everton have also been linked with Ancelotti after sacking Marco Silva. One of the early frontrunners for the job, Vitor Pereira, ruled himself out of the process on Tuesday leaving Ancelotti to contest with Emery and David Moyes among others. A move to Everton would complete a strange circle with the Toffees’ 1-0 win over Chelsea in 2011 being Ancelotti’s final game in charge of the Blues.