“We leave the Champions League with our heads held high. In the first half we proved that we can play it out with one of the best teams in the world” Marek Hamsik told the world’s press last night.
The pride of southern Italy had just suffered a 6-2 aggregate loss at the hands of Real Madrid. What makes this aggregate loss even more painful, is that it was in no way a fair reflection of the game. Napoli went 1-0 up in both the first and seconds legs before Real did what they always do, ramp up the tempo until their opponents can’t keep up with them.
Sarri and his team shouldn’t be too quick to beat themselves up, and they should have their heads held high. However, when looking at the bigger picture, it gets a bit grim. Napoli are now out of the Champions League and are also ten points behind Juventus in Serie A with 11 games to play. The icing on the disappointment cake is that Napoli are going to have to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Coppa Italia SFs to try and salvage their season.
Napoli’s now main worry is qualifying for the Champions League, with Lazio just four points behind the southerners.
But say if Napoli finish third and are valiantly yet ultimately knocked out by Juventus in the Coppa Italia. Is this season a total failure?
The instant reaction to this question is ‘of course’. In the hyperactive world of modern football, silverware is surely the only thing that could validate a club like Napoli’s season.
However, the answer really isn’t that simple.
Just after New Year, I posted this tweet:
This is Maurizio Sarri's world and we're all just living in it. pic.twitter.com/OUs1mGK9u8
— Billy (@BilbertoSilva) January 8, 2017
The clip shows some absolutely sumptuous football, the kind of football that Napoli have been playing all season and has left people applauding in front of their TV sets.
Napoli ended up winning the game above 2-1 in the dying seconds. But for some people replying to the video, this sort of football was redundant because Napoli were currently losing in the game.
It once again raises the age old question, ‘what’s the point of beautiful football if you don’t win anything?’. The counter to this is of course ‘what’s the point of winning if you don’t do it in style?’
The beauty of football has been well documented throughout history, the Dutch side of 1974, who actually lost the World Cup final to West Germany, are actually revered more than the actual winners.
What I’m trying to guide people towards, is that there’s a lot more to football than silverware. It’s incredibly reductive of what is an absolutely beautiful sport to say that only trophies matter. Neapolitans will be understandably upset that Napoli most likely won’t put any silverware in their trophy cabinet this season.
However, what they can take from this season is that they have been thoroughly entertaining. A quick Twitter search of #SarriFootball will bring up a host of videos showcasing Napoli’s combination play. It really is a site to behold.
While trophies are fun, the style of football and how your team play the game can be a much more rewarding and more easily accessible way of gaining joy out of the game. If everyone judged their seasons by silverware, only a handful of clubs across the globe would be happy each season.
Winning trophies can be compared to ‘chasing the dragon’. So you win one trophy, what next? You want another, and then you want the treble within a year, and then the sextuple. Once you’ve won the sextuple, you want to win the sextuple two years in a row. It’s a greed that constantly grows. Football should not be about that.
There may not be any silverware this season in Naples, but there’s a heck of a lot of things to be excited about.
Other reasons for optimism in Naples
Recovering from losing a goal-a-game striker in the summer was never going to be easy for Napoli. This was always going to be a transition season for them.
Transition seasons are never welcomed by pundits and even fans. A quick look over to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City is enough evidence for this. In my opinion, this season could be a pivotal one in terms of future success for Napoli.
They’ve re-invested the Higuain money in some of Europe’s top young talent. Amadou Diawara (19) and Piotr Zielinski (22) both finished on the pitch against Real and have caught the eyes of the media playing in Sarri’s system.
While these two players will most likely not stay at Napoli their whole careers, there’s no reason they can’t contribute to a Scudetto push within the next year to three years, they have the talent to.
This summer will be imperative for a future Scudetto push. Keeping Kalidou Koulibaly and Elseid Hysaj may be difficult, but they’d be almost impossible to replace with ready made talent.
If they can keep their stars, whilst improving the depth of the squad (forwards are most definitely needed, along with a new LB), there’s no reason Juventus won’t be sweating.
And oh, for the love of God, replace Pepe Reina. There’s a reason he’s never won a league title (
Follow my ramblings on Twitter @BilbertoSilva