When AIK qualified to the group stage of Europa League I started hoping that they would be thrown into a group that included an Italian team. I followed the draw and was rather pleased they got lined up with S.S.C. Napoli. A team that’s been playing a pretty decent brand of football the last couple of seasons and a team that has some interesting players on it.
Unfortunately the match did not live up to my expectations. Napoli’s coach Walter Mazzarri spoke of doing a light turnover going into the match against AIK. What he billed as a “light turnover” actually meant turning over eight players from the first team. Only 3 starting players were on the pitch against AIK when the game began. Star striker Edison Cavani played, but it’s like that featured from the start only because he was suspended for Napoli’s following fixture in Serie A.
The entire situation is in my opinion a great big example of everything that is wrong with Italian football today. Way to much emphasis on results at the point that you start sacrificing the sporting element. The match against AIK was on Thursday the 22nd and Napoli’s next Serie A match is Monday the 26th. That’s four days of rest. Napoli is currently 4th in the Serie A standings and their next opponent is Cagliari who is 13th and has close to half of the points. Do you really need to rest 80% of the team to face this opponent? Serie A is also on the 14th match day out of 38, which means there are 24 matches to be played with a max of 72 points still available.
Against AIK the game plan almost backfired. Blerim Dzemaili opened the scoring at the 20th minute to bring Napoli into the lead but 15 minutes later the match was equalized by AIK’s Helgi Daníelsson. 60 minutes into the game and Napoli’s coach, concerned that he might lose the match, started to bring in first team regulars one by one. First came on Gökhan Inler, followed by Juan Zúñiga, and finally Marek Hamšík. In the end Napoli squeezed by, AIK’s Per Karlsson gave up a penalty in extra time when he fouled Edison Cavani. A stadium full of booing and hissing wasn’t enough to stop Cavani. He sent the keeper one way and sent the ball the other way.
Like I already said it wasn’t a good game. It felt like the ball was in the air long enough for it to be a volleyball game. Thinking on the match I just seem to dwell on Napoli’s blatant snubbing of Europa League. In the end they qualified for the next round, but they certainly didn’t do it in style. And I get the feeling that had they not qualified there wouldn’t have been many complaints from the top brass. One can’t help but wonder why. If you look at the results of Serie A for the last 20 years you will see that 18 titles have been divided between Inter, Milan, and Juventus. While the two Rome teams, Lazio and AS Roma, have each taken a title. The odds of winning Serie A seems to be very much against Napoli, so why ignore a cup that is out there for the taking and is certainly within your means?
Is it because the competition doesn’t offer the same pay day as Champions Leauge? Pretty sad if it’s come to that, there was a time that you played to win trophies not put money into the owners pocket. As always these pictures and more available via Pic Agency.