“To me, being the best means proving it in different countries and championships” – Cristiano Ronaldo
“First I went left, he did too. Then I went right, and he did too. Then I went left again, and he went to buy a hot dog.” – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
“I have no idea when I’ll be fit.” –
Hello and if you’ve read my first blog in this series The Old Lady and Ronaldo #1: il Partenopei chiama (The Parthenope calls) then you’ll know already the scale of this challenge and if not here is a recap in one sentence – to win Serie A with Napoli ahead of a Ronaldo (and Dybala, but more of that later) inspired Juventus.
Sure, it is ambitious and as I mentioned in that first blog this Partenopei challenge is made even harder by having an aging squad, no strength beyond the first team and piss all in the transfer pot. To add to that, my key player contracts were all due for renewal, (together with the subsequent signing bonuses and wage rises) and the directors took a 28mil dividend a week after I signed. But enough of that, excuses over and let’s see how I started to deal with it. Firstly, those contract renewals ..
Catalan taxi for Mertens?
With no money to buy in it was crucial that I tied in my key players that had took us to within 4pts of Juve last year under Maurizio Sarri. Dries Mertens, Marek Hamsik and Jose Callejon were the first priority as they had just two years left on their contracts. Despite having a combined age of 1,163 years they are top drawer and worth upwards of 30+mil each so there was no way I could let them go as the likes of Barca, Real Madrid and Man City started to shark around us. Mertens in particular (with his 20 goals and 6 assists last year) was practically on the plane to Catalonia when I met him at the airport with 5 mil in used Euros and begged him to stay and thankfully it did the job. Another couple followed in the shape of youngsters (both 28) Lorenzo Insigne and Kalidou Koulibaly, meaning early doors I was feeling much more settled with the squad. This of course meant our already limited funds were depleted further so with that in mind we delved into the market to see if we could get any (cheap) bites to give us the much needed rotation options that the challenge of overtaking Juve required – and that Sarri was criticised for in his last year at the Stadio San Paolo, using a core of around 15 players for most of the 17-18 campaign. This criticism came from Napoli President Aurelio de Laurentiis while Sarri was still there, when he said that it was ‘inevitable’ that Napoli’s players would run out of steam at the end of the season ‘if we always use the same players’.
But undeterred we went into the market, predictably unable to get any young elite players with 20 Euros, a bit of string and half a packet of ‘Babol’ (Italian sweets) in our pockets. That said, I had no choice but to turn to elder statesmen again and picked up a pair of beauties in Robben and Zlatan. Both came on low fees albeit with a few mil signing bonuses to pretty much clear us out, but what buys they were and I urge any of you to do the same if you are struggling for funds as they are just outrageously good for their ages.
So, with a little bit of rotation in the bag I also went looking for a keeper as Pepe Reina had gone to AC Milan and left us with nothing more than Orestis Karnezis who was bought just before I arrived, a Greek 2* rotation keeper who, with respect to him IRL must have surely been a panic buy from the Napoli board. Interesting to note that, as I write this on 7th August 2018 he is still Napoli’s only first team purchase in real life this summer. However my efforts were futile and as it stands on January 20th I still don’t have a new keeper, though I have my fingers crossed that the Galatasaray keeper Fernando Muslera will be in the van at close of business in this window. The problem is, and has been all along, that as I started with my wage budget already in overspend when I took over the reins, trying to balance fees plus a wage from such a meagre finance slider is nigh on impossible – to give you an example, this is what the 20 mil January budget has been reduced too when I slid the wage deficit down from it’s previous 2.5 mil p/w. In other words it’s going to have to be ‘sell to buy’ methinks.
So how we doin’?
We doin’ good. Not VERY good, but good given the scale of the challenge. As it stands we are 10 pts behind the old Lady despite an invincible league run until our first defeat to them away in our first meeting of the save when they absolutely destroyed us across all the stats. It was a killer because although I managed to mark Dybala and Ronny out of the game they got two bloody penalties, with Ronaldo scoring his to win one nil.
We also bloody bottled it and failed to win on two night games when Juve had lost their afternoon games, which was so goddamn annoying.
On a more positive note, our rotation has worked perfectly in keeping us in contention AND qualifying us from our Champions league group, even though Juve were knocked out in their group (yay woohoo 🙂 ). This was even more important because we had some serious injuries early doors to Hamsik (3 months); Mertens (2 months) and now Insigne (2 months). This meant that the Robben/Zlatan party could get in full swing with great results and here are their stats for the first half of the season, firstly Zlatan, who is on a goal per game plus 7 assists ..
.. and Robben, who is almost identical with one more goal but 6 assists (interestingly, while he is a beast as an IFa he is devastating as a DLF with a FBa or WBa behind him, giving me another attacking option) ..
As for the other players, tbh they’re all a bit bland in comparison due mainly to those injuries, so still a lot of work to do on rebuilding and renewal going forward.
Plans moving forward
- Buy a goddamn decent keeper as I’ve lost count of the number of times our resident Greek has stood there with his finger up his arse when one-on-one (fnarr fnarr)
- Do a little bit of sell-to-buying to raise funds moving forward
- (possibly) sell Hamsik – sorry Napoli fans but he’s worth 32 mil at 32 years old with declining attribs so if an offer comes he has to go
- Continue to perform well in the Champions League (Arsenal next at home 🙂 )
- Keep plodding on and hope the Old Lady slips down the stairs come the end of the season (though it’s not going to happen really, is it?)
So there you have it, not much to report so far so keep your eyes open for the next update at the end of this first season. Enjoy the pizza and see you soon.