How the 'Italian Sheikh' Aurelio De Laurentiis is bidding to bring the glory days back to Napoli

The film producer owner of the Serie A side has made £110m available for new signings - yet this was a team in the doldrums just a few years ago

Aurelio De Laurentiis has never been one to shy away from dramatic demonstrations, while retaining his own unique sense of style in doing so on countless occasions.

The Napoli president unveiled Gökhan Inler in a lion mask at the Swiss midfielder’s official presentation in 2011. At a press conference to announce Edinson Cavani’s contract renewal until 2017 last summer, he opened by saying: “Edy is about to board a flight to cold Manchester.” The Uruguayan striker subsequently entered the room to declare he would be extending his stay at the Partenopei.

However, the film producer’s latest declaration has been a serious one of intent towards Europe’s heavyweight clubs with an extravagant spending spree in the transfer market after revealing the team has in the region of £110m to spend this summer. Rafael Benítez has been convinced to take the managerial reigns and put pen to paper on a two-year deal with an option for another season – after restoring his reputation at Chelsea. 

The marquee signing of Gonzalo Higuaín, along with adding his former Real Madrid teammates José Callejón and Raúl Albiol, plus a host of other arrivals including Dries Mertens and Pepe Reina have led the local media to refer to the eccentric owner as the ‘Italian Sheikh’. “We are targeting players with a few years of experience to hit the ground running,” clarified the seasoned Spanish boss. “But we also want to integrate youth, and native players such as [Paolo] Cannavaro and [Lorenzo] Insigne.”

‘DeLa’ has succeeded in retaining his sense of flair as the footballing world has shifted its focus on Naples. Sky Italia interviewed a supporter at the team’s secluded pre-season training camp in Dimaro – a tiny village in the shadows of the Dolomites - ahead of the upcoming campaign who displayed a jersey signed by the president as ‘Aurelio Higuaín’ before the Argentine’s move had even been confirmed.

It is easy to get caught up in De Laurentiis’s antics and the anticipation surrounding a promising project at Napoli, but the situation at the southern outfit has not been as auspicious for 25 extensive years.

Under the guidance of long-time president Corrado Ferlaino in the late 1980s, a Partenopei side spearheaded by the one and only Diego Maradona triumphed. They won the only two Serie A titles in the club’s history, a UEFA Cup, Coppa Italia and a Supercoppa Italiana. The Argentine legend left the peninsula disgraced in a drugs scandal in 1991 and Ferlaino followed out the door in 1994.

Napoli went through a series of owners and honorary presidents who could not prevent their prolonged fall from grace. In 2004, the outfit was found bankrupt with debts approaching £70m. Luciano Gaucci, an owner of several Italian teams, most notably Perugia, was prepared to step in but lacked the financial clout. De Laurentiis rescued his hometown team’s professional status by paying the courts £25m.

Rather dishearteningly, they were forced to drop their full historic mantle of Società Sportiva Calcio Napoli and start from scratch as Napoli Soccer in Serie C1 (Italy’s third division) – only restoring their original name by repurchasing it two years later. De Laurentiis presented a coherent five-year plan to catapult the team back to Serie A and hastily poached director of sport Pierpaolo Marino from the consistently overachieving Udinese and appointed wily journeyman coach Edoardo Reja as manager.

The entire operation appeared doomed from day one as the newly assembled hierarchy began with no training ground, equipment and crucially, no players.

Against all the odds De Laurentiis accomplished his objective with two years to spare. Marino employed shrewd tactics learned from the Pozzo family in Udine in the scouting department to bring in the likes of Marek Hamšík and Ezequiel Lavezzi for a pittance. After sealing a shock eighth place in their first season back in the big time, their faithful fans had reason to be optimistic. However, the team’s growth was stunted by a series of mistimed decisions - which De Laurentiis later admitted to regret. The popular motivator Reja was dismissed and Marino’s contract was terminated by mutual consent in 2009.

Industrious Tuscan tactician Walter Mazzarri proved to be the man to take Napoli up a notch. His dynamic 3-4-3 system thrived by centering on blistering the opposition with rapid counter-attacks.

Cavani’s arrival from Palermo in 2010 created a trio known as the  ‘three tenors’ with Lavezzi and Hamšík, and they flourished in tandem upfront as the club qualified automatically for the Champions League for the first time in 21 years by concluding the 2010-11 campaign in third.

Napoli had officially returned to the pinnacle of the domestic and continental game. They steered their way out of the Champions League’s ‘group of death’ at the expense of Manchester City, but despite a spirited display over two legs they could not overcome Chelsea in the last 16. Mazzarri’s man then convincingly dispatched a Juventus side who went unbeaten throughout their 2011-12 title win in the Coppa Italia final – gifting the club their first major trophy since 1990.  

Mazzarri resigned after the final match of last season against Roma as he judged the players “needed new stimulation” after four successful seasons.  

Results off the pitch also proved a testament to the astonishing work De Laurentiis and his management team have accomplished since 2004. The club has recorded profits for five successive seasons, an almost unfathomable concept in Italian football, by focusing their efforts on commercial revenue and not depending entirely on broadcasting funds. The figures released in January for the year 2012 detailed a record set of net earnings of £12m – with the sale of Lavezzi bringing in over £25m alone. 

De Laurentiis has embraced social media to disclose his ambitious proposals for Napoli, in particular being active on his personal twitter account launched in March.

Buying a satellite club is an aim - in similar vein to Udinese owner Giampaolo Pozzo purchasing Spanish side Granada in 2009 and Championship outfit Watford in 2012 – with the target being to expand the brand in “Italy, the US, England and Brazil” with Leyton Orient linked as a potential buy in the press. Reja would be “appointed as manager of the English team” should the opportunity arise.

Expanding the council-owned Stadio San Paolo has also be a priority for De Laurentiis. UEFA previously warned Napoli that their 60,000-capacity ground, built in 1959, is in need of maintenance. On a less urgent note, on the list of requirements is also an “authorized group of cheerleaders” for the outfit - as De Laurentiis has discussed at length in several question and answer sessions on twitter.

Napoli has spent the majority of the £53m they received from Paris Saint-Germain for Cavani - but the splurge is far from over. Prolific Porto striker Jackson Martínez is reportedly next in line to join the movement. Marco Verratti’s agent Donato Di Campli revealed De Laurentiis offered PSG a “monstrous” fee to tempt his client back to the peninsula as his contract negotiations have stalled. Reports suggest director of sport Riccardo Bigon has been sounding out possible defenders such as Madrid’s Fábio Coentrão and Feyenoord youngster Bruno Martins Indi for their next significant buy.

The only Italian club in the last decade to touch the vast £85m mark (or more significantly 100m in euros) in a season was Juventus in Antonio Conte’s debut campaign at helm - with the figure splashed over the course of the two transfer windows in 2011-12 campaign. Napoli appears certain to reach that feat. The Bianconeri have claimed back-to-back league titles since, and the real question hanging over the new era under Benítez is whether they can turn the clock back and recreate the successes of the Maradona years by genuinely challenging for the Scudetto and breaking into the top echelon of European teams.

The certainty with De Laurentiis involved is Napoli will never lack in thrills and spills.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears