Marek Hamsik will forever be remembered as one of Napoli’s all-time greats, but has staying at the Stadio San Paolo stunted his career?
When August 2017 arrives, Napoli captain Marek Hamsik will have moved into his 30s, spent a decade in Naples and be approaching the end of what is thought to be his peak years.
However, while such devotion is commendable, a huge talent has just two Coppa Italia medals to show for that loyalty – even if breaking Diego Maradona’s goalscoring record and becoming all-time appearance holder in the coming years.
That they face Real Madrid – a regular destination of transfer speculation – in the second-leg of the Champions League on Tuesday night, raises the question whether the five-time Slovakian Player of the Year could have experienced a far more decorated career.
Particularly as the attacking-midfielder has performed consistently highly for the Partenopei during the years, starting with a debut campaign at Napoli ending top scorer and Serie A Young Footballer of the Year.
When owner Aurelio De Laurentiis insisted on his arrival that Hamsik should be closely monitored, it is somewhat surprising that the businessman has never cashed in – through choice or force – as with other overseas stars Gonzalo Higuain, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani.
Top-scorer again in 2008-09, Europe’s leading clubs came calling. Chelsea apparently more willing than Arsenal to part with €30 million for the then 22-year-old starlet and a move to the peninsulas traditional powerhouses appeared to be on the cards.
However, clearly happy in southern Italy, Hamsik rejected the opportunity to join Inter – who went on to record an historic treble – while De Laurentiis told Juventus the youngster would not head to Turin for all their players in return.
Considering the Nerazzurri’s struggles since a trophy filled 2010, the Slovakian probably views it the right decision and if he had moved to the Old Lady would be as ‘welcome’ in Naples as Higuain is today.
Napoli were also starting to be seen as serious potential challengers for a first Scudetto since 1990 and how Hamsik inspiring them to Champions League qualification in 2011 and 2013 is an achievement of sorts in the modern age.
Unfortunately, arguably the last chance for the ex-Brescia man to move on and win the honours his ability deserved past in 2013, when one of the most prominent attacking-midfielders in world football.
Robbed at gunpoint in the city – for the second time – Hamsik could have engineered a dignified exit, but incoming coach Rafael Benitez insisted it would cost Los Blancos another €100 million just spent on Gareth Bale to prize him away.
Again it looked the right decision on the form shown under the Spaniard, as a trequartista behind Higuain, but his season was disrupted by injury and started their triumphant Coppa Italia final short of match fitness and at his sharpest.
Interest from the Santiago Bernabeu resurfaced two years later, when Benitez took the reins in Madrid, but their relationship was never believed strong enough for that to be little more than paper talk.
When it sparked life again with the appointment of Zinedine Zidane, you could hear there was little to the speculation, preferring to further cement his place in Naples.
“I have a contract with Napoli and I’m really not thinking of leaving. I’m pleased about what we’re doing,” responded Hamsik.
Impressing at Euro 2016 a move to Premier League big hitters Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, as well as Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich was just background noise to the summer transfer circus, as never likely to leave Napoli.
When Madrid arrive at the San Paolo he will have another chance to carve his name deeper into the fabric of a club he clearly loves and maybe get the widespread appreciation he deserves, but win or lose will never quite be thought of throughout Europe individually as highly as others that have worn the shirt.