Napoli Club Focus: Season Preview 2013/14
It has been a spectacular summer for Napoli but one of wholesale change.
A summer in which fans of the Partenopei waved goodbye to their beloved striker Edinson Cavani but greeted Rafael Benitez and his plethora of new signings with open arms and cheers.
There has been an influx of new names and players calling Naples home.
Whilst it might take a while for these players to settle, having deals have been struck early allowing for a full pre-season for the team to gel and acclimatise to each other.
Benitez looked to his native Spain to bolster his ranks, bringing in three players from La Liga whilst also having Spanish World Cup winning goalkeeper Pepe Reina join on a season long loan to replace Morgan De Sanctis who departed for Roma.
Reina’s role may be two fold at the San Paolo. Not only in donning the gloves when required but to also pass on his wisdom and to educate Rafael Cabral, another new goalkeeping arrival.
The 23-year-old is joining from Brazilian side Santos for fee believed to be € 5.5 million. Rafael has made 151 first team appearances in Brazil’s top tier so is certainly well advanced in his goalkeeping journey despite his young age and looks to be a tremendous prospect.
However having Reina on hand to guide and advise will certainly help the youngsters skill progress further. Consequently, Benitez must establish a goalkeeping hierarchy to avoid fractions within the dressing room and maintain team unity.
Dipping further into talent pools from around Europe, Dries Mertens was brought in from PSV Eindhoven who adds to the attacking contingent and is a worthy goal threat having netted 37 times in the last two Eredivisie seasons.
The Dutchman recently claimed that he was not afraid of the competition in the Napoli squad and the tussle for spaces in the starting eleven will drive the players to keep searching for perfection all season long.
Napoli’s marquee signing of the summer was Gonzalo Higuain from Real Madrid. Being supplied by the ever so loyal Marek Hamsik, this partnership has the characteristics to scare every defence in Serie A.
Capable of equally spectacular goals as the departed Cavani, Higuain possess the torch which can ignite the cauldron of the San Paolo and take the atmosphere to its volatile best in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.
Playing alongside the intelligent Hamsik is a privilege for any striker in modern day football and under these conditions, the Argentine will flourish. With Lorenzo Insigne thrown into the mix as well, Napoli’s attacking options are bulging.
One area that has seen quite as much attention in this mercato is the defence. Pablo Armero has made his switch permanent following his loan spell from Udinese with Raul Albiol also boarding the train bound for Naples.
Defensive options are a little thin so perhaps as the window draws to a close, many a hopeful Napoli fan will be wishing for one or two more signings to solidify the back line.
With the added pressure, yet excitement, of the Champions League returning this year, depth is crucial if Napoli are looking to compete on all fronts.
There have been many eye catching arrivals and no, I’m not just talking about the camouflage away shirt. Designed by Macron, the design certainly shakes things up and is far from generic, whilst subliminally giving the opposition a message that they are in a war when the take on the Partenopei.
Walter Mazzarri’s at departure opened the gate for new coach Rafael Benitez, who is heading to Italy after a hostile stay at Chelsea. After the somewhat unpleasant treatment that sections of the Blues support gave to the Spaniard, he must feel overjoyed in taking charge of affairs in a city in which he is very much appreciated.
That support can only benefit the performance of the 11 players that take the field in the blue of Napoli on a weekly basis as the tactician fills them with believe inspired by the fans.
In terms of honours, the 53-year-old has everything from La Liga titles to Champions League triumph and is as converted as a manager can be in modern day football.
The former Liverpool coach will be keen to prove a success in Italy after his somewhat disappointing time in charge of Inter, where he did lead them to Club World Cup success, but struggled with the rigors of the demanding Serie A campaign.
There is certainly a sense of optimism around the San Paolo heading into this new campaign and there rightly should be. Napoli look to be Juventus’ strongest challengers yet again for the Scudetto and with greater defensive resources there’s no reason Napoli should not sit atop Serie A come next May.
League positioning suffered last time Napoli had to balance Champions League requirements but with Benitez, a former winning coach of the competition at the helm, the ship will be guided slowly in the right direction.
There is more than one reason to believe this Napoli side can eclipse the success of the Walter Mazzarri era. Exciting times await at the San Paolo.