Luciano Spalletti, the wine-loving eccentric who ended Napoli's years of hurt
Napoli's historic Serie A title might be victory for some of Europe's most passionate, long-suffering fans and a downtrodden city, but it is also personal triumph for Luciano Spalletti, the man they said could not win.
In a country full of big football personalities Spalletti might just be the quirkiest; a wine-making, highly-quotable eccentric who has earned the big-time success his long and eventful coaching career deserves.
At 64 years old, Spalletti is the oldest ever coach to win the Italian title but his vibrancy and the modern, free-wheeling way his Napoli team play bely his advancing years.
He is also one of the most camera-friendly coaches around, his oak-coloured pate and world-weary smile as instantly recognisable as the enjoyable football his teams play.
As a lower league player the closest he got to greatness was pulling Diego Maradona's shirt in an Italian Cup match, now he leads a team ready to emulate the one inspired by Naples' Argentine icon.
"I haven't been travelling around in first class, gazing out of the window. I've had to hitch-hike," said Spalletti after the last-gasp win at Juventus which all but sealed the title.
"Being in a position to win the Scudetto is repayment for all the sacrifices I've made over the years."
- Innovator -
Before Napoli, Spalletti was best known for his two spells at Roma, where he won two Italian Cups and the Italian Super Cup for a success-starved club, one which had gone through four managers and almost got relegated the season before he first arrived there in the summer of 2005.
The previous year he had led tiny Udinese into the Champions League positions and at Roma he would do the same, while also being the man behind one of this century's most significant tactical developments.
Years before Lionel Messi became Barcelona's fabled 'false nine', Francesco Totti was playing the exact same role under Spalletti, a move which would make Roma one of the most exciting teams in Europe and turn the Italy forward from a classic number 10 into a goal machine.
Totti won the European Golden Boot in 2007 and the most prolific period of his career coincided with cup wins that year and in 2008, when Spalletti's Roma took the league title race with Inter Milan to the final day of the season.
It was the third time in as many years that Roma finished second behind Inter, who won four Serie A crowns in a row in the aftermath of the 2006 'Calciopoli' match-fixing scandal which led to Juventus being relegated.
"Spalletti has deserved to win the title for years, when he was in charge of Roma they played great football," said Udinese's all-time top scorer Antonio Di Natale to the Gazzetta Dello Sport last month.
"I've not known many coaches as passionate and skilled as him, he used to stay at the training ground 12-13 hours a day just to take care of every possible detail."
- Hard-headed -
Spalletti also has no problem butting heads with players who question his dressing room authority.
Antonio Cassano recounted in 2021 that Spalletti once dropped him from the Roma squad for refusing to turn down the volume of his music in the training ground gym, and when he returned to the capital in January 2016 after winning two league titles at Zenit Saint Peterburg he clashed with an ageing Totti.
A club-record 87 points in 2017, this time behind all-conquering Juventus, meant almost nothing to Roma fans due to his massive falling out with their iconic captain, who retired the day Spalletti was loudly booed before securing yet another second-placed finish and leaving for Inter.
He took Inter into the Champions League in both his two seasons at the San Siro, which were tarnished by another row with another powerful skipper.
Spalletti stripped Mauro Icardi of the captain's armband after a long, and very pubic, spat over a contract renewal complicated by Icardi's showgirl wife -- and agent -- Wanda Nara being a television pundit.
He was removed in 2019 and spent two years on gardening leave, playing paddle and managing his Tuscan vineyard, before taking over at Napoli and finally creating a title-winning vintage.
"No disrespect to my previous coaches but what Spalletti has done here can't be compared to anything else I've seen elsewhere. He's a genius," Victor Osimhen told France Football earlier this month.
"The day we manage to apply 99 percent of what he teaches us we will obliterate any team we come up against."