With a cigarette in his mouth, he observes from afar. The 56-year-old is forever a student to the game, taking the utmost care in each step he takes. A recent report from the newspaper Il Mattino explained he spends up to 15 hours per day involved in football related work.
Aside from training his squad, he comes home to watch films of opponents, analyse and study tactics and seek how to improve his team.
He fully immerses himself in the sport, in a position he would do free he says.
Living just 5km from Napoli’s Castel Volturno training ground, Maurizio Sarri has given his all to improve a team he inherited that finished fifth, missing out on Champions League contention on the last day of the season. Furthermore, Napoli conceded 73 goals in all competitions last season so there was obvious work to be done.
While many neutrals expected a major re-haul of the squad to occur in the summer, Sarri acted swiftly to dismiss those claims. Just like the hardworking values he embodies, he described going out into the transfer market to purchase defenders would not be the solution.
Instead, Napoli’s troubled defence that has been their true weakness over the years would be bettered by hard work in training.
There’s no better figure to symbolise just how much Sarri has improved this side since just taking over in the summer than Kalidou Koulibaly. Arriving from Genk last season for €7 million, the centre-back fought off competition from Miguel Britos and Henrique for a starting spot alongside Raul Albiol.
Appearing as a diamond in the rough, the potential in Koulibaly was there for all to see last season, showing glimpses every so often of what a great defender he could become with proper nurture.
However, raw in his approach, lapses of concentration continually let down the Senegalese international last term. Indeed, he committed five defensive errors last season which was the most out of his teammates.
But in came Sarri and the 24-year-old – who was possibly going to leave the San Paolo this past summer –has transformed under the ex-Empoli coache’s watch and Napoli are now reaping the benefits.
Operating at left centre-back, Koulibaly hunts down opponents, not affording a single inch of space. While he was caught out on a number of times when venturing too far forward last season under Rafael Benitez, the former Genk man adheres to a patient, timed approach that Sarri has instilled in him.
Koulibaly appears more focused and confident on the ball this season for the Partenopei, a stark contrast from his playing days under Rafa. Excelling in sharp passes with both feet, his great vision and calmness in possession has been effective in helping rotate the ball and start the attack.
Indeed, Koulibaly has completed the most passes in the Europa League this season, 295. He also produced a phenomenal assist to Jose Callejon in his club’s 5-1 victory against Midtjylland, firing a ball from his own half in which the Spaniard caught on the volley.
Additionally, Sarri has helped the Senegalese international improve his positioning with use a drone deployed in training. Last season, the 24-year-old was not disciplined enough during the course of an entire match, leaving his marker completely free a few times per game.
However, that’s very much changed for the physical defender, sticking closer to his opponent and providing much needed security in the back for the Neapolitans.
Simply put, Koulibaly has gone from a good prospect to one of the best centre-backs in the league. Given the nickname K2 – an abbreviation for the second tallest mountain in the world – Koulibaly does well to exemplify the comparison, standing at 6’5” and not affording opponents a chance to get past him.
The results have backed up Koulibaly’s improvement in form, with the Partenopei conceding just three times in their last 13 matches. The club can also boast the second best defensive record in the peninsula, letting in eight goals this term.
Napoli are flying high at the moment both in Serie A and the Europa League; Koulibay’s form under Sarri has given the club the solidity to genuinely compete on dual fronts this season.
About the author – Matthew Amalfitano
Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, the Independent, Betfair, beIN Sports USA, Squawka and others.