Who is this then?
Luciano Spalletti is a 63-year-old man born in Certaldo in Tuscany and is currently the manager of Napoli, who are leading the undefeated Serie A and who crossed the Champions League group giving Liverpool the butt in their home game at Diego Armando Maradona Stadium. He drives a Fiat Panda and has a pet duck. He’s brilliant.
He was not a professional footballer and played for Serie C clubs such as Entella, Spezia, Viareggio and Empoli, eventually leaving the game to coach Empoli, which was in the third tier of Italian football. He took them to the top flight after two consecutive promotions in 1995/96 and 1996/97.
For several years he moved from club to club, managing Sampdoria for a year, in two different periods, moving to Venezia for a pretty terrible 18 months, then to Udinese for a terrible three month period. The next step for Spalletti was a six-month tenure at Udinese for a 40% win rate before returning to Udinese. That was odd in itself, as their first 11-game period produced just two wins and an 18% win rate.
But he changed things over the next three seasons, moving from 14th to sixth, seventh and in 2004/05 fourth in Serie A and a spot in the Champions League thanks to 21 goals from David Di Michele.
This performance with an unknown club earned him the show at Roma, which he coached for 224 games over four years. He used Francesco Totti as a false nine when no one had heard of the false nine (even though Uruguay probably used it in the 1930s) and others like Pep Guardiola would be wrongly hailed for inventing it.
He achieved three consecutive second places at Roma, won the Coppa Italia twice and the Supercoppa once. Along the way, he broke the record for consecutive wins, scoring 11 in February 2006. He won back-to-back Serie A “Manager of the Year” awards in 2006/07 and 2007/08. Totti scored a remarkable 32 goals in 2006/07.
However, after finishing sixth in 2008/09 and a poor start to the season, he resigned.
His next show was at the newly created Zenit St Petersburg. He was there for three and a half years, 184 games and 57% wins, winning two league titles and two cups. But as he didn’t win anything for three seasons, he was fired. He was out for 20 months, then returned to Roma for 198 months, put them third and second, beat Edin Džeko with 39 goals and qualified for the Champions League. It was his thankless task to effectively retire the superhero, Totti – something he did not unskillfully and gracefully.
His next job was at Inter Milan in June 2017 for two seasons and two fourth places. But it wasn’t a happy marriage, the club wanted Antonio Conte to come in and look like an angry gnome, so Luciano split in the summer of 2019 and took two years off before taking over Napoli. Last year, they finished third.
That wasn’t good enough for the Napoli ultras who wanted him fired, so much so that when his Fiat Panda was stolen they said they would get it back if he promised to resign. They felt that, having led the league for part of the season, they had dropped to third place and wanted someone to blame. I bet they’re glad he didn’t now, as this season they’ve played 11 league games, won nine and drawn two.
The fact is, while others have been hailed as heroes, he was almost Italy’s coach, never winning Serie A but finishing second and third many times. Will this be his year to win the title? Some are wondering whether Napoli will be a good bet for the Champions League and their ‘sprezzatura’ style still doesn’t suggest it’s especially unlikely.
James Horncastle, the long hair of Italian football, said of our man: “Luciano Spalletti is one of the influential, innovative and countercultural coaches Serie A has produced over the last 15 years, and we are getting some belated recognition for what a good tactician he is. It is.”
Presumably his career in football management has left him with a healthy bank balance, which makes his choice to drive a Fiat Panda all the more endearing. Proof that the nicest people are never the people who try to be nice. He also has a huge collection of football jerseys and the aforementioned pet duck. He could easily have been Chelsea’s manager, as Roman Abramovich spoke to him about it while he was at Roma, but he didn’t feel like he was ready to do so as he didn’t speak English.
His Napoli squad this year is one of the best to watch in Europe playing an expansive, sprawling game with Georgian Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, who joined from FC Dinamo Batumi this summer for €10-12m, leading the way with seven goals and eight assists. .
Kim Min-jae, signed from Fenerbahce for 18 million euros to replace Kalidou Koulibaly, started very well. Giacomo Raspadori was loaned from Sassuolo and is playing very well, with five goals so far. The entire team is playing with a well-crafted plan.
Guillem Balague said that Napoli is “a team that plays with an idea, everyone thinks the same way, it doesn’t reinforce individual talent, everyone has to think in one way – chasing the ball, counterattacking, but six are behind the ball – things that don’t make you shine personally, but benefit the team.”
And Spalletti himself is captivating European football lovers by playing up to the camera on the side of the field, making all sorts of hand gestures and also wearing what looks like some sort of space-age shell suit, which for a 63 year old man, it’s a pretty distinctive look that evokes the thought of the competitive grandfather yelling at his grandkids playing football for school.
Three great moments
Some of his enigmatic hand gestures.
Your Napoli team thrashes Ajax
The Rangers walked away.
His current contract expires next summer and it looks likely that he will be offered some sort of extension if this good form continues. Obviously injuries can take their toll and you wonder if Napoli have the depth of quality in their squad to deal with that. They haven’t won the title since 1990 in the Maradona years and he is their best chance to do so.
He’s almost won Serie A so many times that most neutrals will be rooting for him to do so this campaign, not least because Napoli are a fantastic team to watch and are playing with style and panache, and that depends on Luciano Spalletti.