Napoli’s transfer window seemed to be characterised by their inability to sign a good holding midfield player. The likes of Sandro, Lucas Leiva and Maxime Gonalons were all linked with moves to the Stadio San Paolo but none arrived.
Yet, in many ways, it is Canadian-born Dutch midfielder Jonathan De Guzman who has been the saving grace of the Neapolitan’s summer transfer campaign. He already seems a popular figure in the dressing room based on the evidence of the strange, choreographed dance that he and Gokhan Inler perform when either of the pair score.
De Guzman is a gifted player in possession and he adds a variety of options in midfield. Napoli may have wanted to sign a midfielder who could disrupt the opposition but still benefit from an exciting player in the centre of the park who can make things happen.
The former Swansea City man can pick a pass, quickly launch a counterattack, burst into the box late at pace, test the goalkeeper from long range and even take a mean free kick. Despite that, the 27-year-old is yet to really nail down a place in Napoli’s starting line-up and currently has only one Serie A start to his name and three in the Europa League.
Yet, whenever Rafael Benitez has called on De Guzman, the Dutchman has delivered and it seems a certainty that he will be given more responsibility. So far he has mainly been used as an impact substitute and has excelled in that role. He scored in the dying minutes on his Serie A debut away to Genoa to give Napoli the three points and the signs are that he is now well on his way to being promoted in terms of his square role.
De Guzman’s first league start came in an exciting but ultimately disappointing 3–3 home draw with Cagliari, when the midfielder chipped in with a goal. While the Napoli defence may not have covered themselves in glory, the Dutch international put in the kind of energetic and creative performance that suggests he could turn out to be Napoli’s signing of the summer.
The midfielder’s most memorable performance in a Napoli shirt however came against Swiss side Young Boys where he grabbed a hat-trick in Napoli’s 3–0 win.
In the way he took two of his goals against Young Boys, De Guzman displayed an instinctive finishing ability more befitting of a striker, and on the third that of a midfielder with the timing to arrive late in the box to pounce on chances. His first goal, taken from out on the left touchline is also already one of the Europa League’s best and, showed quick thinking — albeit also a slice of good fortune — to take advantage of the goalkeeper’s advanced positioning.
De Guzman hasn’t yet played enough for Napoli during the 2014-15 season to prove that he has salvaged what was a largely disappointing transfer window at the San Paolo. But, when he has taken to the field, he has been one of the Napoli’s most exciting players. He has definitely done enough to earn the trust of Rafa Benitez.
Napoli travel to Prague on Thursday, with a chance to move ahead of group leaders Sparta Praha. The question now is whether De Guzman can maintain his form once he becomes more a regular. If he can, he will turn out to be an outstanding signing. After all, there is much merit in picking up such a skilled and versatile player who offers so much going forward and for what is increasingly looking like a bargain €6 million.
Follow Luca Gunby on Twitter at: @Gunbyzono