The football hotbed of Naples is going through a period of transition this season in Serie A, as the biggest challenger to Juventus’ recent domination takes stock.
After three seasons in which Napoli pushed I Bianconeri more than any other team, this campaign has been tough.
Gennaro Gattuso was drafted in as head coach when Carlo Ancelotti was sacked after a poor first half of the season. Since then, Gli Azzurri have at least clawed their way up to sixth place in the Serie A table.
The San Paulo faithful have had a torrid time by their standards but their team has looked back to its old self recently and is certainly in a strong position to nail down a place in next season’s Europa League. Victories over Cagliari and Brescia have maybe turned Napoli’s season around, or at least pulled them out of a malaise.
So let’s take our chance while we at SBOTOP have a temporary break from reporting Serie A 2020 results, to have a quick look at Napoli’s colourful past and what the future may hold.
Gli Azzuri’s chequered history
Napoli has the fourth biggest fan base in Italy, and they are used to the highest highs and the lowest lows.
The club broke the world transfer record fee after buying Argentine legend Diego Maradona in a £12-M deal from Barcelona in 1984. By 1987, Maradona had transformed Gli Azzurri to become the best team in Italy as they won the double, taking the Serie A title by three points before beating Atalanta 4-0 to win the Coppa Italia.
But by 2004, the club had plumbed the depths and was declared bankrupt in August. Gli Azzurri started again at the bottom, but they still pulled in bigger crowds than most Serie A clubs, breaking the Serie C attendance record with a crowd of 51,000.
They were promoted back to the Serie A in 2007, but it took another few years before they could compete at the very top again.
Gattuso needs to refresh an aging squad
Napoli’s decline in the first half of this season was little surprise to some who questioned how the club could compensate for the loss of Marek Hamsik, who departed for pastures new in China last summer.
The Slovakian ace holds Gli Azzurri’s appearance record with 520, including 403 league matches between 2007 and 2019. And only this season has Dries Mertens equalled Hamsik’s goal scoring record with 121.
Mertens has been a big player during Napoli’s recent success. But at 32, will he be tempted by one last big payday? Azzurri fans will hope not as alongside 28 year old skipper Lorenzo Insigne, Mertens is a man who can make things happen.
Attacking midfielder Jose Callejon has been a mainstay. But at 33, he isn’t the long term future of the club. 26-year-old Polish striker Arek Milik is top scoring with nine goals while Fabian Ruiz, at 23, is taking his chance to shine.
Since joining Napoli in 2018 for a fee around 30-M Euros on a five-year contract he has made 48 appearances, scoring seven goals. Fabian Ruiz is a central midfielder with great vision and poise, equally at ease in front of the back four or supporting the strikers.
Last June, Ruiz made his international debut in a Euro 2020 qualifier, coming on as a substitute for Isco in Spain’s match against the Faroe Islands.
Reports suggest that Gattuso is ready to make a move for Wolves’ 23-year-old forward Diogo Jota in the summer transfer window. He could face competition from Manchester United who have also expressed an interest in the Portuguese winger. He has scored nine goals in 11 games during Wolves’ Europa League campaign, to add on to his six league goals.
Will Mertens sign another contract?
The urgency to bring in another attacking wide-man will depend on the whereabouts of 32-year-old top scorer Mertens. His contract has six months to run but Napoli fans hope he’ll renew.
The Belgian ace was on the mark in Napoli’s 1-1 Champions League draw with Barcelona at the San Paulo Stadium and remains a key man in Gattuso’s plans.
Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard is an admirer and could be planning a summer raid but the Italian press say he has no firm intention to leave Naples.
“My objective right now is to have a very good season with Napoli. Then we’ll see how things go. There’s still some time left until the end of the season. At the end of this year, I’ll assess whether to renew my contract or not,” said Mertens.
Watch this space.
year-old Brazilian midfielder Allan, could well be another player on the move in summer. He’s been targeted by Everton boss Ancelotti, while PSG are also rumoured to be interested. Gli Azzurri will slap a £42m price tag on their player.
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