“Will I stay at Napoli even if we don’t qualify for the Champions League? I don’t know, the club will deal with this sort of thing. I am focused only on playing my football and winning every game. The club will think about the rest and they know what to do. For as long as I am at Napoli, I will continue to give my all for this team.”
So said Edinson Cavani before he’d even left the pitch in Week 34, no doubt alerting Europe’s major clubs that the man Aurelio De Laurentiis has more than once promised won’t be sold, might be. With his choice of words on Saturday evening, the 25-year-old Uruguayan, whose experience of Champions League football is still fresh in his mind, had consciously opened the door to a new stream of transfer speculation about how he might return to the competition for next season.
Napoli’s win over Novara this weekend, with the help of Cavani’s opening strike, ensures that in closing the gap to third place to four points with five games left, the striker’s primary route back into the UEFA tournament may come without the need for a transfer, something that is likely to be the footballer’s first choice.
Indeed, it is arguable that Cavani is only the striker he is – one that has scored 60 goals in the past 21 months, is almost unrecognisable from that which Napoli signed from Palermo and has attracted so much attention – because of his teammates at San Paolo and because of Walter Mazzarri’s open tactics that are designed to feed him as a single focal point.
From Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi’s duel free-roles behind him to Christian Maggio and Juan Zuniga’s probing and relentless running and provision of crosses from the flanks, everything is at Napoli to support Cavani. Their understanding so as to regularly find Cavani in his what otherwise seems like unpredictable movement for opponents to mark – for example, knowing if he is going to make a late run at the back post or an early run to the near post – and his ability to capitalise on chances provided, has developed an interdependent relationship between team and striker.
Importantly, it is an on-pitch network that is backed up by an off-pitch focus – pre-match provided a good example, when David Trezeguet’s claim that Mazzarri has blocked the club signing him last summer was confirmed by the Coach and explained because: “I didn’t want a shadow for Cavani.”
As the two first-half strikes to decide the weekend’s game demonstrated – Cavani may be integral to Napoli, but so too is Napoli to Cavani. Mazzarri’s decision to encourage Blerim Dzemaili to play alongside Hamsik and behind the shadow-less forward – the midfielder began the game retreating into midfield before instruction – was cited as being as much of a contributing factor to the home side winning as the fact was that Cavani netted the crucial first and had a hand in the second. Napoli may have a style of play that has brought criticism upon Mazzarri this term for its inflexibility, but it exists for Cavani, who continues to benefit from it.
Indeed, Cavani’s failure to score or generally affect play in the past few weeks’ most important games – against Chelsea, Juventus and Lazio – coincided with a selection shake-up in the team, from Hamsik’s deployment in central midfield to Maggio’s absence and even a shift in formation against the Aquile.
“The most important thing now is to win, no matter how, if it is by three, two or just one goal. It doesn’t matter if they are my goals or others, it is three points that are vital to make up the positions in the League,” added Cavani to the above veiled threat of a summer departure.
Significant it was that he delivered this message, as it is one he has been relaying for the past few weeks. Indeed, for now hinting at leaving, it is important to note that Cavani’s behaviour is otherwise still that of a man who is both aware of what he benefits from at the club and who is keen to still win with it.
On from taking the lead on the pitch last season, this term has seen the footballer also develop into a more talismanic character away from the field too. Weekly messages through the media of the team’s need to concentrate and to win every game have reportedly been matched by the same regular assertion made to his teammates in the dressing room. This is a player who now knows his own importance to the team but is taking a proactive interpretation of it to his teammates, aware of the interdependence he has already developed with them.
However, for the faith that his teammates and the club’s fans can take from his consistent and genuine determination to return to the Champions League with the Partenopei, the admittance that he doesn’t know where he will be come next season if they don’t, should equally be heeded. There are other teams out there who might fancy giving Cavani the service Napoli have provided him these two seasons.