Luciano Spalletti bid farewell to Napoli after leading the club to a long-awaited title (Alberto PIZZOLI)
Luciano Spalletti elevation to Italy coach is the latest personal triumph for a man critics said could not win but who last season led Napoli to a historic Serie A triumph.
In a country full of big football personalities, Spalletti is one of the quirkiest: a wine-making, highly-quotable eccentric who has finally earned big-time success after years of glorious failures.
Spalletti became the oldest ever coach to win the Italian title last season at 64 but his vibrancy and the modern, free-wheeling way his teams play bely his advancing years and have earned him the biggest job of his long, eventful coaching career.
He is also one of the most camera-friendly coaches, his oak-coloured pate and world-weary smile as instantly recognisable as the enjoyable football his teams play.
As a lower-league player, the closest he got to greatness was pulling Diego Maradona’s shirt in an Italian Cup match. It was a long slog to arrive at the top table of football management.
“I haven’t been travelling around in first class, gazing out of the window,” said Spalletti after the last-gasp win at Juventus that all-but sealed the Scudetto.
“I’ve had to hitch-hike.”
Before Napoli, Spalletti was best known for his two spells at Roma, where he won two Italian Cups and the Italian Super Cup for a success-starved club, which had gone through four managers and almost got relegated the season before he first arrived in the summer of 2005.
– Innovator –
The previous year he had led tiny Udinese into the Champions League positions and at Roma he would do the same, while also being behind one of this century’s most significant tactical developments.
Years before Lionel Messi became Barcelona’s fabled ‘false nine’, Francesco Totti was playing the same role under Spalletti, a move which would make Roma one of the most exciting teams in Europe and turn the Italy forward from a classic number 10 into a goal machine.
Totti won the European Golden Boot in 2007 and the most prolific period of his career coincided with cup wins that year and in 2008, when Spalletti’s Roma took the league title race with Inter Milan to the final day of the season.
It was the third time in as many years that Roma had finished second behind Inter, who won four straight Serie A crowns in the aftermath of the 2006 ‘Calciopoli’ match-fixing scandal which led to Juventus being relegated.
“I’ve not known many coaches as passionate and skilled as him,” Udinese’s all-time top scorer Antonio Di Natale told the Gazzetta Dello Sport in April.
“He used to stay at the training ground 12-13 hours a day just to take care of every possible detail.”
– Hard-headed –
Spalletti also has no problem butting heads with players who question his dressing room authority.
Antonio Cassano recounted in 2021 that Spalletti once dropped him from the Roma squad for refusing to turn down the volume of his music in the training ground gym. When Spalletti returned to the Italian capital in January 2016, after winning two league titles at Zenit Saint Peterburg he clashed with an ageing Totti.
Spalletti led Roma to a club-record 87 points in 2017, but that meant almost nothing to Roma fans due to his massive falling out with their iconic captain. On the last day of the season, fans loudly booed Spalletti as the club secured yet another second-place finish, this time behind all-conquering Juventus. Totti retired after he match. Spalletti left for Inter.
He took Inter into the Champions League in both his seasons at the San Siro, which were tarnished by another row with a powerful skipper.
Spalletti stripped Mauro Icardi of the captain’s armband after a long, and very pubic, spat over a contract renewal complicated by Icardi’s showgirl wife — and agent — Wanda Nara being a television pundit.
Spalletti was removed in 2019 and spent two years on gardening leave, playing paddle and managing his Tuscan vineyard, before taking over at Napoli and finally creating a title-winning vintage.
“No disrespect to my previous coaches, but what Spalletti has done here can’t be compared to anything else I’ve seen elsewhere. He’s a genius,” Victor Osimhen told France Football in May.
“The day we manage to apply 99 percent of what he teaches us we will obliterate any team we come up against.”