Europe, Who Needs It!? (we do)

What an awful weekend. Barring a miracle of Istanbul ’05 meeting the Nou Camp ‘99 meeting Raul Albiol walking on water, the Scudetto dream seems over. Having now left the dark room I have sat in staring at a wall, I’ve started to look forward. Reports today are full of uncertainty for the future in terms of our Head Coach but also the roster of players. I never thought I’d say this but… next season might be the time to focus on Europe.

At least in the Champions League the referees, as Michael Oliver proved, can stand up to the Juve monolith. This isn’t the only factor why Napoli need to take Europe more seriously next season and in a potential season of renewal and regeneration on and off the pitch we need to get the message out quickly and strongly to attract the best talent.

First of all: a disclaimer. I have gone on record, in pubs, on public transport and on social media of my cynicism towards the Champion’s League. I don’t like how the odds are stacked in the favour of rich clubs. Cup competition, for me, is all about giving the underdogs the opportunity to win which is why, as a true football hipster, I think the best cup competition in the world is the Coupe de France. Around 7500 clubs are involved each year and, semi-regularly, there is an amazing story of a tiny team conquering the odds to progress deep into the competition. Amateur club Calais made the final back in 2000 and it was a glorious run which brings out the best in football. Non-professional teams also get to play their ties at home: talk about levelling the playing field.

The Champions’ League is not the Coupe de France. Far from it, it is about branding, international reach and official global mattress and pillow partners (that is actually a thing – look here). One of the many reasons I love Napoli is that we represent the opposite of all this. For this reason I’ve been ok with Mister Sarri’s focus on the league and some minutes against Man City aside, our very underwhelming exploits in Europe this season. I realised this week, however, that the frustrations behind getting fresh talent in to our heroic squad are closely linked to our lack of a regular global stage.

Imagine you are a very good twenty three year old professional footballer. You play for a mid-table team like Montpellier, Leverkusen or… Milan. You want to make the step up to a bigger European team. Your agent phones you and says,

‘Ciao Francesco. I’ve got some interest from Sevilla and Napoli. Who do you want me to set up a meeting with?’

Now, obviously I would say Napoli but… I think the pro-footballer, right now, would say Sevilla. He would get the chance to test his skills on multiple fronts and bring his game to the attention of the world, including his national team manager. Sevilla love European competition and their performances, like the most recent outings against Manchester United, give a footballer the chance to experience those one-off epic encounters that can carve your name in to footballing folklore.

The main issue with Napoli now is the well documented issue with rotation and the minutes in our star players’ heavy legs. We need more quality in the squad but, as Simone Verdi and Matteo Politano will testify, joining a team to play the last twenty minutes of league games is not an appetising prospect.

Next season, therefore, we need to really engage with the Champions’ League and show the world what Napoli can do. Sarri, should he stay, needs to communicate this to the existing players and this could help more of them to stay and keep this special side together. The team upstairs need to sell this strongly to future players and help fill the squad will more quality. It is not just a case of minutes that the squad players will get, it is the quality of these minutes and the experience of being involved in Big Games.

And… I’m going to have to empty my UniBank account, crack open a Heineken (paid for by Mastercard) and switch on my Sony TV to sell my soul to the devil and engage with this cynical, corporate but entertaining cup competition in the interests of the club I love!

By Frank Sidekick 

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