For most club preseidents the prospect of losing their manager and their star striker in the same transfer window would be an absolute disaster. This however, is not the case for Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis. Despite losing their best player, Serie A top goal scorer Edinson Cavani and coach Walter Mazzarri, the Partenopei have re-shuffled and look very strong ahead of the new season.
Napoli opted to bring in Europa League winning manager Rafa Benitez as their new manager. The announcement of the appointment of Benitez was clearly a statement about the level De Laurentiis wants to reach, given Benitez’s history of success in Europe in particular. It’s a marriage De Laurentiis wanted to start a successful era in Naples. With Mazzarri heading to Inter looking for a new challenge, De Laurentiis was looking for a man able to lead Napoli to the next level. After winning the Europa League with Chelsea Benitez, the third head coach to win European trophies with three different clubs, embraced this challenge.
The Italian Sheikh-up
To support Benitez, De Laurentiis has spent around £110m in the transfer market. Instead of replacing outbound Edison Cavani with a solitary big signing, Napoli’s owner opted for bringing ina lot of quality players, trying to bolster the whole team and rejuvenate the side. He added a forward in Gonzalo Higuain, pairing him with his former teammates José Callejón and Raúl Albiol, plus a wide forward in Dries Mertens and a proven goalkeeper in Pepe Reina to replace the departed Morgan De Sanctis.
Former Liverpool’s ‘keeper became expendable when Brendan Rodgers brought in Simon Mignolet from Sunderland in a £9 million deal. The Spanish International opted for a season loan that reunited him with his former boss Rafa Benitez. Reina comes to Italy with a reputation as one of the Premier League’s best keepers, despite the fact that Rodgers has decided to opt against him.
Higuain received an unbelievable reception as Napoli’s fans see him as the final piece in a big spending transfer campaign. There is a feeling that Napoli have overpaid for Higuain, as the team has agreed a €37 million deal for the Argentine striker, specially compared to the €16 million Fiorentina paid for former Bayern’s forward Mario Gomez, but Higuaín is only 25 and he came from Real Madrid where he scored 107 league goals. The Argentinian striker converted a huge 33.3% of his chances last season, scoring 16 goals in the process and is more than assured in front of goal, as well as possessing a lot of mobility to provide Rafa Benitez with tactical flexibility. Add to it that the spending isn’t over yet as Napoli are targeting Jackson Martinez of Porto as a target man up front.
With Mertens or Lorenzo Insigne on the left, and Callejon on the right, Benitez has all the pieces he requested to support Higuain in the 4-2-3-1 system he is projecting and that he utilized at Chelsea. This is part of the shake-up as Napoli are switching away from the Mazzarri’s favorite back three in support of a new system featuring a four-man flat defence.
The new team will rely more on the collective than on a lone player as it was when Cavani was here. By the way there is still a player around which the team will get about and from which a lot is expected and this is Marek Hamsik. He scored 11 goals and registered 14 assists last season. He could be lined up as attacking midfielder behind the centre forward or more deep in the middle of the pitch, as box-to-box midfielder playing alongside a holding one in front of the defence. Under Benitez, Hamsik can still improve. If Benitez decides to stay with his classic 4-2-3-1 full backs could become the main problem for him as neither Christian Maggio and Juan Zuniga are suited to play in a four-man defence, as both are more classic wing-backs suited more to a 3-5-2 formation..
Benitez’s first task will be to make sure Cavani is not missed by getting his forwards firing. If the new manager will succeed in this, a lot will be already made. Although Benitez failed in his previous Italian experience, he came back now in a different situation from that he found at Inter after Josè Mourinho left. There will be more opportunities for Benitez to install his tactical ideas. In fact, differently from the Portuguese, Mazzarri left him a group of players suited to work hard tactically, not squeezed and hungry for win.
His 3-4-3 system and his rapid fast-breaks led the team to become a perennial Champions League spot contender. Benitez needs to made the next step continuing the team’s growth, restoring team ambition and getting Napoli ready for the top, both in Italy and Europe. Napoli won merely two Serie A titles, a UEFA Cup, a Coppa Italia and a Supercoppa Italiana in the team’s history. This summer, De Laurentiis changed the team’s face to get his club closer to the championship. The club have spent big and if they can live up to their expectations on the pitch then the sky could be the limit for the Naples based club.