Napoli: cause for optimism?

by   |   23/05/2023  12 Comments  [Jump to last]

Obviously the most pressing thing for Everton right now is a home win. It’s hard to look beyond all that but, like a pungent smear of deep heat, here’s a counter-irritant to take your mind (even briefly) off the pain of waiting. Consider instead, the position of Napoli.

This unfashionable, traditional club has just managed to achieve something spectacular after a period on the periphery since the late 80s.  It has won the Scudetto. 

I have a soft spot for Italian football because it was on Channel 4 when I was growing up and we didn’t have Sky (still don’t). For anyone who’s not so fussed, the reason this is relevant to us is that Napoli’s title-winning squad construction has been extremely cost-efficient.   

Players like Frank Anguissa (once of Fulham), Leo Ostigard (never quite a first teamer with Brighton after spells on loan with Stoke and Coventry) and Tanguy Ndombele (a flop with Spurs) have had strong seasons for the Champions. They are accompanied by Min-jae Kim, the excellent South Korean centre-back bought from Fenerbahçe who we’ve been linked with since he was playing in China.

Most notably though, they have managed to find themselves two absolutely world class young attackers in the form of Victor Osimhen (a £75M signing from Lille) and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (an £11M signing from Dinamo Batumi in Georgia). 

These two have fired Napoli to the title – with a supporting cast of good, but not great players.  How did they get here?

For a good few years now, the Napoli squad has been overhauled and improved by signing players in two ways:

·       Try before you buy loans: Bakayoko (Chelsea), Anguissa (Fulham), Raspadori (Sassuolo), Simeone (Verona) and Ndombele (Spurs)

·       £5M to £20M deals: Min-jae Kim (Fenerbahce), Oliveira (Getafe), Anguissa (Fulham), Ostigard (Brighton), Kvaratskhelia (Dinamo Batumi) and Politano (Inter).

The “try before you buy” loans have helped them dial down some of the risk inherent in buying players.  By the time they were shelling out about £16M for Anguissa, they’d seen him in action and knew he was a good fit for the team (as well as good value).  That’s worked out better than buying the ostensibly similar Bakayoko, who has faded badly since starring in the excellent Monaco side from a few years ago.

The £5M to £20M deals come off the back of bigger spending in previous seasons which didn’t really get them anywhere.  What the big spending taught them is that the sorts of players they were spending about £20M to £35M on weren’t actually any better than cheaper counterparts.  They were just buying the same standard players from selling clubs with better bargaining power.

Hopefully that just reinforces what I’ve always believed.  By adopting some fairly sensible principles (not unlike what Moyes used to do), it’s not so hard to construct a steady side where players are all at a decent level. The way many clubs go about this is quite formulaic.  However, as we also saw under Moyes, you can only go so far with this.

What gets you above the ordinary is a bit of magic; a couple (or more) of real difference-makers.

Victor Osimhen first came to prominence for Nigeria at an U17 World Cup in 2015 – which prompted a move to Wolfsburg that didn’t work out and a loan spell in Belgium with Charleroi where he exploded into life with 20 goals in 36 games.

Charleroi exercised an option to buy and sold him on immediately to Lille where he really started to shine on a bigger stage.  But it meant his £75M move to Napoli (their one big splurge) was just over a year after being sold by Wolfsburg for only £3.5M.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia had a similarly weird career trajectory. After showing promise as a youth in Georgia, he got a loan move to Lokomotiv Moscow and then Rubin Kazan paid £600k for him. He did well there and was one of the regulars in YouTube highlights reels for a couple of seasons, dribbling past entire teams and looking like George Best in his pomp (including at international level for Georgia). 

The curiosity was that, despite the obvious talent, he seemed to have little or no end product.  In a league where Oumar Niasse and Aiden McGeady had decent stats, Kvaratskhelia got just 9 goals and 18 assists in 73 games.

He was linked with us; he was linked with everyone. But weirdly the Ukraine war intervened and somehow Georgian club Dinamo Batumi found £8M to buy him in March 2021. He scored 8 in 11 games there before moving to Napoli just 4 months later.  Since then, he's been brilliant.

This is obviously all lovely stuff for Napoli but doesn’t do a lot for us.  Well, I guess so.  But, actually, from my perspective at least, it’s this sort of stuff that keeps the hope alive - believing that the players are always out there to turn us around. 

As much as the playing squad needs all sorts of attention this summer – I hope that the club does what it can to seek out players who, like Osimhen and the man now known as Kvaradona, can elevate an ordinary team into the extraordinary.  Players of really high potential, even if their careers might take a few peculiar twists and turns before they realise that potential.  It’s not unlike what Martinez tried with Deulofeu and Lukaku.  With a bit of imagination, we can do it again.  

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Reader Comments (12)

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Andy McNabb
1 Posted 24/05/2023 at 11:50:56
Couldn’t agree more, Robert. I thought exactly the same after reading the recent articles on the BBC about Napoli.

Interesting comment about the £25-30 million players just being more expensive versions, when you could get a similar player from another club in a different situation for much less.

We need to be more canny in our dealings. That way we might avoid the current imbalance in the squad. Even if we stay up, I doubt we will be buying many £20-30 million players in the near future.

Tony Everan
2 Posted 24/05/2023 at 23:27:47
Thanks Robert, love hearing your thoughts and insights with regards transfer strategies. Your arguments here make a lot of sense to me.

I think the biggest factor in all this is quality of attack. They’ve bought an outstanding striker and paid the full price, but also managed to find a diamond in the rough in Kvaratskhelia.

It’s going to be the biggest challenge this summer getting two quality forwards in. I will be looking for to your’s and Sam’s shopping lists!

Thelwell has a big summer ahead, there’s positives about him, he came within a whisker of getting Kudus, his main target Gibbs-White it seems we couldn’t finance the probably up front deal Wolves wanted, wanted Ouatarra probably scuppered by finance issues, terms, again.

He brought in Tarkowski early, the excellent and improving McNeill , Gana for 2m, the promising Garner, sold Gordon for up to 45m!. On the downside Maupay makes no sense when we needed a DCL backup. (The Venezuelan goal machine didn’t count). Vinagre ?, Coady not made enough of an impact. Onana , we may well make a profit on so a good signing, but we should really have been looking for an attacking “Onana” not the midfield with great potential version.

Reinvestment of any sales was somewhat curtailed, he has been operating a financial straitjacket. Forced to beg for elongated deals causing a diminishing the pool of players available him as the competition is less restricted.

It will be interesting to see what he has got up his sleeve this time round. Even more so if we can back him up with the necessary finance.

Ajay Gopal
3 Posted 25/05/2023 at 04:23:05
Terrific article, Robert, just the type that I like to respond to. But right now I am too nervous and superstitious to put my thoughts, lest it jinxes the game on Sunday! Maybe, afterwards….
Kieran Kinsella
4 Posted 25/05/2023 at 04:42:38

I’ve a good mate from Napoli who’s kind of a kindred spirit as a long suffering fan. He says much the same as you. There is hope

Eric Myles
5 Posted 25/05/2023 at 05:10:59
Robert, maybe it's their manager and scouting team that's made all the difference?
Eric Myles
6 Posted 25/05/2023 at 05:39:49
Or their owners?
Lee Courtliff
7 Posted 25/05/2023 at 07:20:14
I always liked the line from Carragher when he said, "you're never as far ahead or as far behind as what you think you are".

2 years ago we looked nailed on for a European place before a bad run-in saw us slip to 10th. At that same time, Brighton were happy enough to finish 15th and now they're in Europe!

12 months ago Burnley didn't have a manager and a lot of their players were look at them!

I've had my gripes with Dyche, the owners, etc but we must look at teams like Napoli and remain optimistic...otherwise what's the point in it all?

Let's just get through Sunday first!

Danny O’Neill
8 Posted 25/05/2023 at 07:42:19
Good research as always Robert.

The current Napoli story epitomises that it isn't what you spend, but how you spend it. That anything is possible.

During my two years living in Italy, 40 minutes south of Rome, I tended to lean towards Roma. I tried Lazio, but to be honest, and I don't say this lightly, their supporters were fascists. No other way of putting it when you experience it.

Napoli is a tough city. Very deprived and driving there is not for the light hearted. But then you can say that about most of southern Italy! The rules go out of the window, the road markings and traffic lights are a waist of paint and you just have to join in with the chaos or you wouldn't get anywhere.

Napoli is very passionate port city that resents the north of the country. Very independent. And that is reflected in it's football club.

I used to have to go there once a month for work / admin reasons.

I jokingly used to call it Liverpool in the sun with a volcano.

Andrew Clare
9 Posted 25/05/2023 at 08:38:22
Danny #8,
My wife is from Napoli and I remember well my first visit there to meet her family. I left with the impression that Italy was crazy. Great people, food, wine and spectacular countryside but just plain crazy/passionate. My wife's cousin took me and my son to see Napoli v Roma (2-1) Zola scored from a fantastic fee-kick, anyway my wife's cousin was so worried about us he couldn't relax, we just didn't realise how unsafe he felt it was for us as foreigners. We were ok so no problem but I did feel sorry for our chaperone.
We have now lived in central Italy for the past 20 years and it is very tranquil much different from Napoli so you can't judge Italy by the wonderful, passionate but wild Napoli.
Back to football European clubs with one or two exceptions can build very competitive teams without huge budgets. Everton need to copy their model of business.
Good luck to the blues this weekend.
Danny O’Neill
10 Posted 25/05/2023 at 09:18:39
Sorry to detract from the football, but where in central Italy Andrew?

I worked in Anzio, lived in Latina.

Central Italy. Umbria is a hidden gem. Gives you everything that the more tourist trap that is Tuscany offers.

Orvieto is a great visit.

Alan J Thompson
11 Posted 25/05/2023 at 13:00:17
What, you mean they didn't sign two players for top dollar from a club you'd just upset by pinching their Manager, or go over your own manager's head to sign arguably the best English player of his generation after having previously sold him for half price, or players you won't play because you can't afford the next tranche of the transfer fee. Next you'll be saying they don't have a Director of Football or billionaire owner with dodgy connections. Extraordinary, they'll never have any good times.
Dale Self
12 Posted 26/05/2023 at 14:47:56
As always, a good read and a fine point made, Robert.

I guess the trick is finding the chemistry with the try-before-you-buy candidates. Anguissa always impressed in that Fulham setup.

I sincerely hope someone at the club contacts you or at least passes your wisdom to those upstairs. Keep it going!

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