Following his talisman's departure in a mega-money move to Paris, Walter Mazzari can now boast of having a more complete side.
That day was always going to arrive when Ezequiel Lavezzi would wave goodbye to his beloved Napoli. Touted by so many of the Partenopei faithful as being the deserved heir to legendary compatriot Diego Maradona’s number ’10′ had it not been retired, the former San Lorenzo star joined ambitious Ligue 1 side Paris St Germain this summer for a massive €30 million. ”I was happy to end my stint at Napoli by winning the Italian Cup. There wasn’t a better way to go. However, I realised that my cycle had come to an end last season,” the 27-year-old stated in retrospect.
What fans of the club are going to realise in the coming season is that Lavezzi, for all he brought to the team on the field and still could bring had he stayed, was telling the truth. Napoli have gone as far as they can with him; in the end, an exit in the short term, on the back of a stunning Coppa Italia campaign that cumulated in Walter Mazzari’s men lifting the trophy, would have provided fans with the beautiful memory to remember him by, rather than the same later discovering progress has stagnated with him sticking around.
Reality is cruel in the way someone is declared a hero only when the situation requires it of him, and the exact same circumstance is befitting of Lavezzi; he helped return one of Calcio’s historical sides to prominence, but his services forthwith would only prove limiting, holding further progress back. Evidence arrives based on the club’s pre-season form, which has already delivered German giants Bayern Munich’s and Bayer Leverkusen’s scalps. The unthinkable is actually happening – Napoli are not merely surviving without their former talisman, they are thriving.
See beyond the emergence of wonderkid Lorenzo Insigne – Mazzari suddenly finds himself presented with a host of tactical aces up his sleeve. The influence Lavezzi excercised on the way Napoli played was almost tantamount to AC Milan’s former dependence on new PSG teammate Zlatan Ibrahimovic, that of providing an inspired, if predictable, outlet going forwards. If anything, Napoli’s potency is now greater than it was before, owing to a greater all-round degree of multi-dimensional collectivism in their methodology of play.
Sacrificing a defender in favour of utilising a three-pronged attack accommodating El Pocho always left the lingering possibility the side would be vulnerable at the back, but the latest shift to a five-man midfield has prompted newfound tactical balance and stability in attack and in defence. That extra man in the middle of the park, not previously possible, is paying off – suddenly, the combined energy the trio of Gokhan Inler, Blerim Dzemaili and summer signing Valon Behrami bring is enabling movement as a unit to function as efficiently as operations at a Swiss bank; their shared efforts both in protecting the backline and supporting the attack likely to surpass anything the team had enjoyed in the past with Lavezzi around. Especially, deploying the visionary Inler as a regista and providing him with the necessary support allows the team to move with purpose and direction, heralding the discovery of a whole new way to play in the upcoming season.
In particular, initiating attacking forays from the back will in turn allow for additional cohesiveness in a frontline still bristling with potency and firepower. The newfound versatility and freedom to effectively field either a 3-5-2 or a 3-5-1-1 is an unparalleled first since Mazzari took over in 2009. While the former will prove tempting given the chance to play either the afore-mentioned Insigne, Goran Pandev or Eduardo Vargas directly alongside natural scorer Edinson Cavani in front of goal, it is the latter that represents the most intriguing possibility.
No one will benefit more from Lavezzi’s departure than Marek Hamsik, the creative force all too often on the periphery of action in sacrifice for his attacking counterpart. Now given the opportunity to shine where he belongs, in the centre, expect Slovakia’s captain to discover his true potential as he relishes the additional responsibility of being the main conduit through which Napoli’s attack will flow, regardless of whether as a trequartista or in a deeper midfield role. Whichever frontal pairing Mazzari opts for next term, the Napoli machine will be a well-oiled, deadly one.
Apart from minor tweaks necessary to introduce a stopper below the age of 30 capable of defending aerial balls at set-pieces in the embarrassing knowledge opponents use such chances to breach their backline at will, Napoli should be lauded for the progress they have made, and will continue to make. Lavezzi’s last present to the fans was to earn the club five times the transfer fee received than what was paid for him five years ago; if reinvested in reported transfer targets Ezequiel Schelotto and Federico Balzaretti, the Argentine can even more so rest contented that he played a massive part in building a more complete and functional team for the club he left his heart in, one that is ready to upset the balance of power in Serie A and eventually, Europe.
As the centre of the media’s attention rests on the traditional powerhouses that reside in Italy’s north, the silent revolution underway in the shadow of Vesuvius continues below the radar, ready to surprise quite a few when unleashed next season. Fans stuck in the past that was Lavezzi will soon have an even brighter future to embrace, for the Coppa Italia won and cherished from last season could soon be joined by a Scudetto or two.