Jose Callejon: Sarri and Napoli’s under-appreciated key cog
Despite being a favourite of Maurizio Sarri’s, the former Real Madrid winger’s importance to the Partenopei is often overlooked
When a team performs well, either the most talented players or the biggest names in the squad receive most of the plaudits and it is no different at Napoli.
Although Coach Maurizio Sarri has created a team that plays fluid football, there are still some players who slip under the radar.
One such player at the Partenopei is 30-year-old winger Jose Callejon. Despite once playing for football giants Real Madrid and also being a Spanish international, his contribution for his current club is often overshadowed by the performances of players like Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne, and Marek Hamsik.
The Spaniard does not always score goals worthy of YouTube compilations like Mertens and Insigne but he is still a regular contributor among the goals from the right-wing.
In Napoli’s 5-0 victory against Torino on Sunday, Callejon scored two goals and created another, taking his tally to 13 goals and 13 assists in 35 Serie A matches this season.
Football fans and the media alike might not notice his contribution as much as his partners in attack but he is one of the few players who regularly stays in the starting line-up.
During his time as Napoli coach, Sarri has occasionally had a few selection dilemmas and has had trouble fitting certain players into his system. For instance, Insigne would start on the left-wing and Mertens would remain on the bench until a knee injury to Arkadiusz Milik resulted in the Partenopei coach converting the Belgian winger into a No.9.
Whenever the coach rotates his squad though, one of the players who maintains a spot is Callejon.
When Sarri started coaching Napoli in 2015, the Spanish winger was one of the players he trusted from the beginning. The former Empoli tactician had started with his preferred 4-3-1-2 formation with Gonzalo Higuain as the out-and-out striker, Lorenzo Insigne as an attacking midfielder, and Callejon as the support striker.
Operating in a forward pairing did not suit the Spanish international and the Ciucciarelli struggled to collect results but instead of dropping him for another player who could operate in that role, Sarri changed his formation to the 4-3-3 and Callejon has remained a mainstay in the Napoli attack since then.
Although Mertens and Insigne are faster and more creative, the former Real Madrid winger serves his purpose for the team thanks to his work ethic, versatility, and tactical discipline.
Along with Hamsik and Insigne, Callejon has played 47 matches in all competitions in 2016-17 but he has played for 3,966 minutes in this campaign, more than any other on-field player in the Napoli squad.
The 30-year-old has only missed one Serie A match this season due to suspension and the only other time he did not feature in a league game was in his first campaign in Italy back in 2013-14.
In his four seasons at the Partenopei, Callejon has only missed out on one match in European competitions, which was a 1-1 draw against Spanish side Villarreal in the 2015-16 Europa League.
Endurance and effectiveness are two things that Callejon provide in droves. He may not be as technically gifted as some of his compatriots or even possess the guile of his Napoli teammates Mertens and Insigne but his ability to patrol the right flank is too often overlooked.
Not many people would notice but when Napoli win matches, it is more often the case than not that the right-winger made a significant contribution.