It’s bad enough that Napoli – considered potential title challengers before the season started – are already 11 points behind leaders Juventus in the Serie A table.
But off the field, this week’s storylines at the Stadio San Paolo would make for a pretty decent television soap opera.
Their season may so far have failed to spark on the pitch, but it has most certainly exploded behind the scenes amid squad mutiny, vicious recriminations and the extraordinary possibility of the club’s hierarchy suing the players.
Napoli are in crisis as their president threatens to take legal action against mutinous players
Napoli manager Carlo Ancelotti could face the sack after being caught up in the row
The tensions have been simmering away during an inconsistent start to the season for Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
In their never-ending quest to pip Juventus to the Scudetto, three defeats and three draws from their opening 11 league games wasn’t exactly ideal. At the moment, following Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Roma, they sit a lowly seventh in the table.
And that poor showing despite the president, Aurelio De Laurentiis, sanctioning a summer spending spree of around €100million to try and bridge the gap to a Juventus left potentially vulnerable by the departure of Massimiliano Allegri.
In came Hirving Lozano for a club-record fee, as well as Konstantinos Manolas, Alex Meret, Eljif Elmas and Giovanni Di Lorenzo, not to mention the free signing of striker Fernando Llorente. All departments were strengthened.
The results didn’t follow domestically, though the Champions League offered a crumb of comfort. Having taken seven points from their opening three matches, Napoli were on the brink of securing their last-16 place.
Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis has been left furious by the squad’s insubordination
Ancelotti and De Laurentiis pose together at his Napoli unveiling last year – but the manager’s relationship with the film producer and club president has soured
But as they prepared for Tuesday night’s home fixture against Red Bull Salzburg, everything went off the rails very quickly.
De Laurentiis decided the squad needed to be punished for their poor display against Roma and sent them off to a training retreat.
Such a response to poor form, known as going ‘in ritiro’, is a common enough tactic in Italian football and De Laurentiis wanted the training camp to last all week.
However, after a 1-1 draw with Salzburg left Napoli needing to wait a little longer to secure their Champions League progress, the players did not report to the club’s Castel Volturno training ground as requested.
Instead the players, deciding they didn’t deserve to be punished like misbehaving schoolchildren for their slack performances, jumped in their cars and returned home.
Fernando Llorente also did not speak to the press following Napoli’s 1-1 draw with RB Salzburg
De Laurentiis initially went on the defensive, saying the training camp was ‘a chance for the team to get to know each other better’ as opposed to a punishment.
Ancelotti had originally disagreed with the president’s decision but eventually came round to accept it, ultimately travelling to the training base on the team bus without the players.
Unsurprisingly, the Napoli hierarchy reacted to this insubordination with fury and announced legal action could be taken against the rebellious players.
The statement released by the club placed responsibility for the training retreat squarely on Ancelotti’s shoulders.
The former Chelsea manager has been linked in the press with a move to Boca Juniors and he failed to conduct a post-match interview after Tuesday’s game, opening up the possibility of a UEFA fine.
Napoli fell to defeat at Roma at the weekend and they have been struggling in Serie A
Napoli are seventh in Serie A, despite being well-placed in their Champions League group
In the meantime, intriguing details have emerged about how the club came to get into this mess in the first place.
Gazzetta dello Sport reported the players are rebelling against the famously-fiery De Laurentiis interfering in the dressing room. The president was giving his unsolicited opinions on team affairs again this week, undermining the manager and coaching staff.
Now, juicy nuggets have emerged from the Napoli dressing room into the press.
Edo De Laurentiis, the president’s son and vice-president, entered the dressing room after Tuesday night’s game to enforce the training camp decision.
The captain, Lorenzo Insigne, stepped up and said: ‘Tell your father we are not going in retiro.’
Captain Lorenzo Insigne told Edo De Laurentiis they wouldn’t be attending the training camp
Dries Mertens had been criticised by the president after being linked with a move to China
Other senior figures in the room, including Dries Mertens and Jose Callejon, backed him up. Allan, the Brazilian central midfielder, reportedly screamed vulgar words in the vice-president’s face.
Mertens and Callejon have already been on the receiving end of the president’s ire this season. De Laurentiis essentially accused Mertens of being a mercenary when he was linked with a move to the Chinese Super League.
‘If a player wants to sell to China to live a life of s*** for two or three years while being overpaid, that’s his problem,’ he said last month.
It came after midfielder Marek Hamsik left Napoli to sign for Chinese club Dalian Yifang back in February, something that clearly didn’t please the president.
Insigne’s reaction stemmed from frustration that, as the club captain and a long-serving player, he always gets the blame when things go wrong.
Allan, meanwhile, is convinced that the Napoli hierarchy didn’t tell him the full truth about offers from Paris Saint-Germain back in January.
Allan is one of the players frustrated with the club’s hierarchy over a potential PSG move
Napoli players applaud their fans after earning a draw in the Champions League on Tuesday
Now all of these pent-up frustrations have burst into the open over a training camp and a civil war has started within the club.
Many of the players contacted their lawyers after arriving home on Tuesday night and a failure to make it through in the Champions League appears to be the least of their worries.
It’s pretty unprecedented to see a club president threaten to take legal action against players for disobeying his orders, which in themselves undermined the authority of the manager.
The real power struggle between Ancelotti and De Laurentiis is likely to lose Napoli a coach who could potentially have ended the club’s long wait for the Scudetto.
But fans of Napoli and their rivals alike are waiting with bated breath for the next instalment of the San Paolo soap opera.