There’s something brewing in Serie A, and it’s not something good for Napoli. AC Milan look like they’re on the rise again, and the way they’re building themselves up, they look like they’re going to be flying back up the table from mediocrity to serious contenders again.
Milan just signed Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus, not only weakening the winners of six consecutive Serie A titles by taking one of their best players away from them — and for an absolute bargain of a price, no less — but putting a big exclamation mark on what’s already been an incredible summer for them. Bonucci. Andre Silva. Andrea Conti. Ricardo Rodriguez. Hakan Calhanoglu. Mateo Musacchio. Franck Kessie. Their squad has gotten a lot younger and a lot more talented than it’s been in a long, long time.
And with Milan starting to throw around financial weight again, it represents a big, big problem for Napoli. Milan are still in a state of recovery and can’t pull in the full weight of their name quite yet — but they still have that huge name, that huge history, and all the value therein. Hell, Juventus are the most successful team in Serie A by a mile, and most foreign fans still consider AC Milan to be the biggest club in Italy.
And if Milan start playing up to that kind of level again, it’s bad, bad news for Napoli. Instead of there being three highly-competitive teams in Italy in Juventus, AS Roma, and Napoli, there will be four or even five, because Inter Milan are threatening to become good again too. Napoli just don’t have the financial power to hang with those teams competitively, and that represents a major problem for the club’s future competitive hopes.
Now, Milan aren’t instantly going to be world-beaters. It’s going to take time for their massively-changed squad to gel, though leadership from their new captain Bonucci will certainly help that. There’s also every chance that significant pieces in their new and pricey squad just don’t work out. But there’s enough high-level talent there now to be legitimately worried, because even if upwards of half of it doesn’t work out, that’s still a damn good team. There’s questions as to whether or not Vincenzo Montella is the right manager for the job, but that’s a different matter entirely.
Should Milan become as good as they can be fast enough, they’re going to be in the title hunt this season, which is going to make Napoli’s pursuit of the title all the harder, and dramatically shorten their window of opportunity to have a serious chance of winning Serie A any time soon. Not to mention that it will become harder for Napoli to qualify for the Champions League on a regular basis, which would only make it even harder for the club to compete financially.
Now, this isn’t all to say that Napoli’s chances are dead in the water. They still have a damn good team of their own. But things are about to get a lot tougher in Serie A — though that could also have some ultimately positive effects, because Milan being good and making the league more competitive should help start pulling more eyeballs and thus more money back to the league. It might not be great for Napoli, but it should be good for Serie A as a whole.
Let’s just hope that Napoli can get white-hot this season and win that title, because they may not get a whole lot more chances to swing for the fences, unless they find a way to really step things up financially. But at the same time, this could be just the incentive Aurelio De Laurentiis and company need to find ways top step it up financially in terms of finding bigger sponsors and the like, and that could be great for the club long term.
But that’s a potential, theoretical end benefit for Napoli. In the meantime, there’s a lot to be concerned about, because AC Milan suddenly getting very good again is not what they needed this season. Fingers crossed that things work out, but Napoli fans have good reason to be getting pretty nervous right now.