On the back of a historic campaign that saw them clinch their first Scudetto title since Diego Armando Maradona’s era, replicating the same incredible feat was always going to be a challenging task for Napoli.

Perhaps head coach Luciano Spalletti and sporting director Cristiano Giuntoli made the wise call by leaving on an extremely high note before things went awry – as it’s often the case under the successful, yet controversial, guidance of club president Aurelio De Laurentiis.

However, the Partenopei fans had expected their team to put in a valiant effort while trying to defend their precious crown, even if some of the Northern giants might arguably be better equipped. But eight rounds into the season, the Southerners already find themselves seven points adrift from the top of the table with their title defense on the brink of collapse before it even begins.

At the moment, new manager Rudi Garcia is being depicted as the main culprit with the hierarchy reportedly prepared to wield the axe and put an end to what would go down as one of the most miserable managerial stints in recent memory.

But is the Frenchman truly the ultimate villain at the Campanian metropole, or a mere scapegoat?

It’s time to examine the reasons behind what has begun as an atrocious title defense for Napoli and rank them based on significance, starting with the least important till we reach the most crucial elements, at least based on our own humble opinion.

5. Squad Changes

The Neapolitans were able to enjoy a relatively quiet summer transfer campaign, keeping their squad intact for the most part. Yet, the club involuntarily parted ways with its star defender Kim Min-jae, as Bayern Munich activated the release clause of the “Korean Monster”. The latter was the solitary first-choice player who left the club over the summer.

Nevertheless, the Azzurri picked up Brazilian centre-back Natan as a direct replacement, and the initial signs have been positive.

Some of the other tweaks in the squad include the departure of Hirving Lozano who has been replaced by promising Danish winger Jesper Lindstrom, as well as the signing of Jens Cajuste who arrives to bolster the middle of the park.

Therefore, the club’s regressing levels cannot be attributed to these somewhat minor changes, so it remains a secondary reason at best.

4. PR Disasters

Question: When you have one of the best strikers in the world among your ranks at a time when some of the biggest clubs on the continent are desperate to sign a world-class bomber, how do you ensure he remains happy at your club and keen to prolong this beneficial collaboration?

Napoli’s answer: You post bizarre TikTok videos mocking him for missing a penalty, of course.

While this social media disaster was accredited to the account’s admin and his absurd sense of humor, the hierarchy’s failure to properly support Victor Osimhen and take its obvious share of the responsibility was possibly the most shocking element in this inglorious mess.

In the aftermath, the Nigerian’s rapport with the club took a major hit, perhaps even opening an incurable wound. Nevertheless, Osimhen is an incredible professional, and has been giving his best on the pitch despite the whole regrettable episode.

Therefore, this shocking PR blunder will probably have a larger effect in the future, particularly when the transfer market opens its doors and the coveted striker starts receiving lucrative offers from clubs run by more professional directors.

3. Spalletti Out – Garcia In

Let us address the elephant in the room, shall we? As we all know, Spalletti’s departure put the whole project in great jeopardy. The current Italy manager was able to launch a well-oiled machine that left the rest of the Serie A clubs, big and small alike, hapless as they were unable to withstand the high pressing or cope with the fast tempo.

So following the manager’s exit, Napoli drew what could be the longest shortlist of managers in recorded history, one that reportedly included 40 candidates. In the show’s season finale, Rudi Garcia won the contest and was handed the keys to a job that he might regret for the rest of his days.

Taking over at a club that has just achieved its greatest feat in decades is a gig to avoid. A wise man shall always refuse this offer despite its undeniable lure (Just ask Rafael Benitez how it went for him after inheriting José Mourinho’s treble-winning side at Inter).

Sadly for Garcia, he’s been unable to produce the type of progressive football that the team displayed last season, despite maintaining almost the same personnel and adopting an identical tactical setup. Moreover, the likes of Stanislav Lobotka, Piotr Zielinski and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia haven’t been able to replicate last season’s form under the guidance of the new manager.

While we shouldn’t lay all the responsibility on his doorstep, Garcia is certainly a factor in this undesirable equation.

2. Missing Real Kvara

As we mentioned above, Garcia hasn’t been able to conjure the best versions of some of the club’s star players. But when it comes to Kvaratskhelia, the issue doesn’t solely relate to the manager and whatever tactical changes accompanied his arrival in Napoli.

In fact, last season’s Serie A MVP had already suffered a dip in form towards the end of the campaign with some observers arguing that the league’s defenders have now “figured him out”.

Whether this point is valid or exaggerated, one thing is certain, the Georgian hasn’t been the sensational winger who cut through defenses like a cheat code, even if he undeniably remains an influential player.

So while some may blame Garcia’s tactics for Kvara’s shortcomings, there’s also a case for a vice-versa scenario, meaning that the player’s underwhelming performances are hindering the coach’s tactical scheme.

1. Mentality: Lack of Winning Culture

This might sound like a cruel notion, but it’s also something that we’ve been warning about since last season when Napoli were on the cusp of winning the Scudetto title.

As we previously argued, the Partenopei have the means to launch a domestic winning dynasty rather than settling for one title. However, this requires a radical change in the mentality of the club and the city of Naples in general.

Following a 33-year drought, Napoli celebrated the Scudetto title as only Napoli can, and rightfully so. The summer panned out as one wild, extended and Jubilant carnival.

So one has to wonder whether these lengthy celebrations have encouraged the squad and boosted the players’ morale ahead of the new campaign, or on the contrary, decreased their desire after getting the feeling that the club had already reached Mount Everest.

When it comes to the biggest football clubs on the planet, winning a trophy always makes for a merry occasion. Yet, they consider it part of an ever-ending cycle rather than a finish line. Hence, you often see them at work on the morrow, immediately launching their preparations for the next quests.

This is the mindset that a club must adopt if it aspires to become among the true elite. As for Napoli, this campaign risks being reduced into one lengthy hangover.

Conclusion

With the club struggling under the tutelage of Garcia, the temptation to sack the Frenchman and replace him with Antonio Conte is understandable.

Whether this deal will take off or not remains to be seen. But in any case, De Laurentiis cannot expect the former Juventus and Chelsea manager to fix every problem at the club with a magic wand, because as we mentioned above, some of the most damning issues at Napoli are caused by the patron himself.

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