Napoli set to lift Serie A trophy but bid farewell to Luciano Spalletti

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Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti walks off the pitch after the Serie A soccer match between Bologna and Napoli at the Bologna Renato Dall'Ara stadium, Italy, Sunday, May 28, 2023 | Photo: AP

MILAN: The joy of ending a 33-year wait for the Italian league title will be tinged with melancholy for Napoli on Sunday.

Napoli won the Serie A title with five matches to spare and the players will finally get their hands on the trophy after the final match of the season — against Sampdoria at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

That will set off another round of festivities in a city that hasn’t really stopped celebrating since even before Napoli clinched the title. It will be the first time Napoli has lifted the Serie A trophy since Diego Maradona led the team to its only other titles in 1987 and 1990.

However, it will also be the final match for the man who engineered the end of the lengthy wait. Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti announced on Monday that he was leaving the team and taking a year off.

Spalletti’s possible departure had been talked about for a while and a young fan was filmed last weekend imploring the coach to stay, but the 64-year-old Italian said he will not reverse his decision.

“Sometimes you have to leave for love, because there’s too much love,” Spalletti said. “I asked myself if I could manage to give Napoli what it deserves again and the answer was no.

“Nothing will make me change my mind … I will miss everything about Napoli. The times with the team, the matches, but no, I will not go back on it.”

Spalletti felt such an affinity with the club during his two years in charge that he recently got his first tattoo to mark his first league title — the Napoli crest and the scudetto badge.

“Napoli has obviously got under my skin and I made what I have had inside me after these two years come out,” Spalletti said. “This city, this group, these people, deserve all the happiness we are experiencing.”

Sampdoria has little to play for. The team is guaranteed of finishing last in Serie A and was relegated weeks ago. However, the club also has reason to celebrate because it was saved from bankruptcy this week after being taken over by the owner of English club Leeds.

Italy coach Roberto Mancini welcomed the news by posting a picture on social media of Gianluca Vialli and the words “the first thought is for you.”

Mancini and Vialli helped Sampdoria to its only Serie A title in 1991. Vialli died of pancreatic cancer at the beginning of the year.

Sampdoria will play in the second division next season, along with Cremonese, but the final team to get relegated might have to be decided by a playoff.

Hellas Verona and Spezia both have 31 points. Verona visits Milan on the final day of the season, while Spezia travels to Roma. If both are level, under new rules, there will be a playoff to decide which one remains in Serie A.


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