Well, who would have thought at the end of last season that Napoli would be in the position they currently find themselves in?
Carlo Ancelotti and his troubled side sit seventh in Serie A following another defeat last weekend – to fellow strugglers Bologna, at home – and are now eight points behind the Champions League places, 17 behind pace-setters Inter. The season is almost already a write-off and it all appears to be their own doing.
It all started with the infamous ‘ritiro’ a month ago, after the Salzburg game in the Champions League. What is actually quite hard to get your head around is why the players refused to go in the first place. They are fairly normal in Italian football and, given the way Napoli were performing, an intense week of training would surely have been beneficial.
What that does, therefore, suggest, is that there is a breakdown in the relationship between the players, backroom staff and, in particular, President Aurelio De Laurentiis. That in itself is a huge problem and, unfortunately for all involved with Napoli, looks like being an issue with very few positive results.
The performances of players on the pitch are not good enough, the stars of the team don’t seem to be having the impact they should be and - all in all - the side look relatively uninterested with football right now. What happens now?
Reports over the last few days have suggested that if Ancelotti’s time isn’t already over, then the next two results against Udinese and Genk in Serie A and the Champions League respectively will decide whether or not Carletto will spend Christmas in Naples.
Gennaro Gattuso is the name on everyone’s lips as the replacement, should the Partenopei decide to dismiss the 60-year-old. A smart choice? That remains to be seen but, right now, Napoli do need someone that is going to take back control of the dressing room - something that doesn’t appear to be happening right now.
Gattuso certainly has the character to win the dressing room over and, given that this Napoli side are still full of quality all over the pitch, you feel they just need revitalising and a few decent results for things to improve.
Udinese and Genk are must-wins, regardless of the managerial sideshow. Napoli know that a win against the Belgians next week will see them qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League, while victory on Saturday will see them close the gap on the top six.
The Azzurri are in self-destruct mode right now, and you sense that these next two matches are huge on so many levels. But just as they put themselves into this position, they are very capable of working their way out of it and turning their season around. The question is, will that take place with or without Ancelotti?
Tottenham Hotspur are the latest example of a club revitalised by the appointment of a new coach, even it came just months after Mauricio Pochettino guided them to a first-ever Champions League Final. Napoli’s players haven’t become bad overnight, so a quick jolt could breathe life back into a project that is going increasingly stale.
On the other hand, we’ve seen at Manchester United how the initial feelgood factor of a new regime can fizzle out very quickly. And Gattuso, like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, for all his efforts in almost guiding Milan back into the Champions League, exposed a general lack of tactical acumen, which arguably ended up costing the Rossoneri a top-four place.
Whatever happens, the next few games and decision to stick or part with Ancelotti will not only impact on the rest of the season but also the foreseeable future.