Gattuso puts Napoli ‘on the path to victory against Barcelona’

Napoli’s Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku in action during their match in Naples, Italy. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 08 August 2020

Gattuso puts Napoli ‘on the path to victory against Barcelona’

  • We certainly want to write an important page in our history, says club’s head coach

MILAN, Italy: Gennaro Gattuso’s reign as Napoli coach may have started amid turmoil but the former Italy international has put the Serie A club on the path toward a potential Champions League triumph against Barcelona.

The southern Italians head for the Camp Nou on Saturday with a first ever Champions League quarter-final berth beckoning.

“We certainly want to write an important page in our history,” said Gattuso of a feat which not even Argentine legend Diego Maradona managed to achieve with the club.

Both sides are 1-1 after the last 16, first leg in the San Paulo Stadium in February.

But Lionel Messi’s Spaniards have not been beaten at home in the Champions League in seven years as they target a 13th consecutive quarterfinal berth.

Barcelona finished second in La Liga while Napoli were seventh in Serie A, but having secured a Europa League spot thanks to their Italian Cup victory.

Gattuso admitted his “head was already on Barcelona” as his side wrapped up their league season with a 3-1 win over Lazio last weekend.

“We will play on a high-level stage and we want to be worthy of it,” he said.

“We know that if we want to compete against Barcelona we will have to take risks.”

The big question will be how to stop six-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi, a problem which former AC Milan midfielder Gattuso would have happily tackled as a player.

“I can mark Messi only in my dreams, or on my son’s PlayStation,” said the 42-year-old former Glasgow Rangers player, who won two Champions League titles with AC Milan.

“We are ready to face Barcelona. We have our style, we are prepared. But they have one player named Messi who can leave 10 players behind.”

As a player, Gattuso had a fiery reputation, with a dogged never-say-die attitude.

In Naples, more than rage he has brought calm to a locker room traumatized after a disastrous first half of the season under Carlo Ancelotti, his former coach in Milan.

This despite sparse coaching credentials, coming through Sion, Palermo, OFI Crete, Pisa and his beloved Milan before arriving in Naples. He was harshly judged after his 18 months at AC Milan despite their fifth-place finish last season, missing out on the Champions League by one point.

But his successor Marco Giampaolo was sacked after just seven matches.

“It’s a profession that cannot be learned from books but by getting knocked in the teeth. I have had a few failures and will have many more,” said Gattuso.

Since the end of January, and after a difficult start to life in Naples with the team plunging to 13th position and Gattuso facing ridicule, the team have been reborn.

He has given confidence back to players including Lorenzo Insigne, Nikola Maksimovic and Kalidou Koulibaly.

His reputation as a 2006 World Cup star and two-time Champions League and Serie A winner holds weight in the locker room, along with his straight talking style, and work ethic.

“(Gattuso) Rino is the most respected coach in the dressing room since I have been here,” said Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis.

Gattuso’s first trophy came in the Italian Cup just days after the death of his younger sister.

Napoli won a dramatic penalty shootout against Juventus in Rome for their first trophy in six years — a feat not achieved under Gattuso’s predecessors Maurizio Sarri and Ancelotti.


Team UAE rider Pogacar claims maiden Tour de France title

Updated 26 min 15 sec ago

Team UAE rider Pogacar claims maiden Tour de France title

  • Tadej Pogacar youngest man to win the race since Henri Cornet in 1904
  • Pogacar also won three stages in one of the most brilliant individual performances in recent Tour history

PARIS: Tadej Pogacar became the first Slovenian to win the Tour de France after he retained the yellow jersey in the 21st stage on Sunday, a day after he pulled off a major coup to take the overall lead.
While Sam Bennett won the final stage, the day belonged to Team UAE Emirates rider Pogacar, who will celebrate his 22nd birthday on Monday and is the youngest man to win the race since Henri Cornet in 1904.
Pogacar, who claimed the yellow jersey from a stunned Primoz Roglic with a monumental performance in Saturday’s time trial, also won the white jersey for the best Under-25 rider and the polka dot jersey for the mountains classification.
Roglic ended up second, 59 seconds behind, with Australian Richie Porte taking third place, 3:30 off the pace.
“This is an incredible feeling, standing here in Paris on the top of the podium. It was an amazing three weeks, an incredible journey,” said Pogacar after the first one-two for one country since Bradley Wiggins finished ahead of fellow Briton Chris Froome in 2012.
“I want to thank all those who made it happen. It was three memorable weeks on the French roads, with incredible crowds. I won’t find the words to express my feelings.”
Pogacar also won three stages in one of the most brilliant individual performances in recent Tour history, leaving Roglic’s dominant Jumbo-Visma team wondering what went wrong.
“We didn’t see it coming,” said Roglic’s team mate and former Tour runner-up Tom Dumoulin.
Bennett became the first Irishman since Sean Kelly in 1989 to win the green jersey for the points classification, ahead of Peter Sagan who was looking to claim it for a record-extending eighth time.
Bennett was the strongest at the end of the 122-km ride from Mantes-la Jolie on Sunday, beating world champion Mads Pedersen, with Sagan coming home third.
Swiss Marc Hirschi, the former Under-23 world champion was voted the most aggressive on the race after notably taking a brilliant win in the longest stage of the 107th edition.
Ineos-Grenadiers had a Tour to forget as defending champion Egan Bernal dropped out of contention in the Jura stage to the Grand Colombier, pulling out a few days later with back pains.
They recovered some pride later on, however, as Michal Kwiatkowski, their unsung hero for five years, claimed an emotional stage win — although that was certainly not enough for a team who had won seven of the previous eight editions.
It was an anti-climatic finale on the Champs-Elysees as only 5,000 fans were allowed on the famous avenue as a precaution against the coronavirus.
France reported 13,498 new confirmed COVID-19 cases over the previous 24 hours on Saturday, setting another record in daily additional infections since the start of the epidemic.
Reaching the Champs-Elysees was, however, a relief for organizers, who had imposed strict sanitary rules to protect the race ‘bubble’.
The bubble did not burst as only four team staff members tested positive and were removed from the race, preventing a spread that could have stopped the Tour.
No rider tested positive.