MILAN (Reuters) - Football coaching can be a thankless task, as Napoli’s Carlo Ancelotti found out on Monday when he was criticised for doing exactly what his predecessor Maurizio Sarri was chastised for failing to do.
Sarri led Napoli to two Serie A second places and one third place during three seasons in charge, making them the team most likely to dethrone Juventus, who have won seven successive titles. He also made them the most eye-catching team in Serie A.
If one criticism could be made of the chain-smoking Sarri, now at the English Premier League club Chelsea, it is that he relied too heavily on the same core of players; club president Aurelio De Laurentiis led the complaints that he did not rotate his team more often.
Ancelotti, in only his third game in charge on Sunday, appeared to go from one extreme to the other as he unceremoniously dropped team captain Marek Hamsik and forward Jose Callejon from his team to face Sampdoria.
Neither even made it on as a substitute; it was the first Serie A game the Slovakian had missed since April 2015, and the end of Spaniard Callejon’s run of 54 successive starts.
“If I do change some things, it’s to keep the group motivated, not because anyone deserves to play less,” Ancelotti said before the game.
Guinea midfielder Amadou Diawara took Hamsik’s place alongside Allan in front of the defence while Simone Verdi replaced Callejon on the right of the attack. The result was disastrous as Napoli were swept aside 3-0.
Ancelotti said afterwards that Napoli’s attitude, not his team selections, were to blame as his team dropped their first points of the season.
“You can’t perform miracles if the attitude isn’t right,” he told reporters.
It is an interesting time for both Ancelotti and Napoli. Apart from the departures of midfielder Jorginho and goalkeeper Pepe Reina, the team is almost the same as last season.
But the squad remains small and second-string players such as midfielders Diawara and Marko Rog, defender Vlad Chiriches and forward Adam Ounas remain relatively untested.
Ancelotti’s initial move was an intriguing one as he switched Hamsik from the left of the midfield to a position in front of the defence, which he appeared to revel in.
That made it all the more surprising that Ancelotti should sacrifice a totemic player who has been at the club since 2007, and is their all-time record scorer, with more goals than Diego Maradona.
Ancelotti’s own career is also under the spotlight.
Although one of Europe’s most successful coaches, having won the Champions League with two different teams and domestic league titles in four countries, his sacking by Bayern Munich last season has cast a shadow.
He always seemed comfortable at big clubs with spending power and where major titles were pretty much guaranteed. Now he finds himself with more limited resources and, in Sarri, very tough act to follow.
Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Kevin Liffey