MILAN: Napoli's dream season finally comes to an end on Sunday when they host Sampdoria, a last victory lap before the architect of their historic Serie A title triumph walks off into the sunset.
Luciano Spalletti will leave Naples and return to his Tuscan vineyard this summer after ending the club's a 33-year Scudetto drought and thrilling fans with some of Europe's most exciting football.
The 64-year-old will be remembered as the man who brought southern Italy's biggest city a joy not felt since Diego Maradona strutted his stuff in what was then the world's toughest league.
“Sometimes, you part ways due to too much love... I need to take some time to rest because I’m pretty tired,“ said Spalletti this week.
A year's wine-making leave awaits Spalletti as Napoli head into another post-season of flux after a host of fan favourites were offloaded last summer.
Napoli are yet to identify their new coach while some of their star players are targets for the super-rich clubs north of the Alps.
Napoli will keep hold of wing wizard Khvicha Kvaratskhelia as his contract runs to 2027. A one-year extension which would double his salary to 2.5 million euros is set to be offered.
However, suspended Kim Min-jae, whose superb season at centre-back quickly made fans forget Kalidou Koulibaly, has a 50 million euro release clause and Manchester United are reportedly eyeing his signature.
Star striker Victor Osimhen is also a target after netting 30 goals in all competitions including the strike at Udinese which sealed the Scudetto with five matches left in the league campaign.
Sampdoria also say their farewells after being relegated but go down to Serie B in more optimistic mood after a much-needed change of ownership.
Massive financial problems have plagued Samp all season, with salaries unpaid for months and the very real threat of bankruptcy looming large.
However a takeover bid led by two companies, one owned by Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani, was finally accepted by outgoing owner Massimo Ferrero, who had to resign the presidency in December 2021 after being arrested for fraudulent bankruptcy and was detested by fans for the parlous state in which he left the club.
On Tuesday, 1991 Italian champions Samp said that approval had been given for a 40 million euro capital increase for the “club’s restructuring plan”, investment which came too late to avoid a four-point penalty for late salary payments for next season.
Inter Milan are at Torino in their last match before the Champions League final with Manchester City. Simone Inzaghi's side are in great form and hoping to take second place from Lazio.
Also in great form is Romelu Lukaku, who in the last six weeks has turned his season around and once again became the all-action centre forward who conquered the Serie A title and Inter fans' hearts two years ago.
Lukaku has scored seven times and set up four more in his last 10 matches, form which could yet put him in Inter's starting XI in Istanbul.
Player to watch: Fabio Quagliarella
Samp's relegation means that veteran striker Quagliarella's long, eventful Serie A career will almost certainly come to an end at Napoli, the club he supported as a boy.
Now 40, captain Quagliarella is 14th in the division's all-time scoring charts with 182 goals scored for a clutch of clubs including Napoli, where he was victim of a bizarre stalking plot which led to him being sold to hated rivals Juventus in 2010.
Both a great goalscorer and a scorer of great goals, Quagliarella is out of contract at the end of the season but may yet continue his playing career in Serie B. - AFP