It is never easy to replace a departing champion. The endless comparisons between he who left and the incoming figure offer a constant reminder. In 1991, Diego Maradona’s exit opened the creative void at the club. It was filled by another diminutive figure in Gianfranco Zola, nicknamed ‘Marazola’ just to further the association.
Fast-forward over 20 years and following Ezequiel Lavezzi’s sale to Paris Saint-Germain the Partenopei have again promoted from within. This time they have called upon the precocious talent of Lorenzo Insigne to sing the same tune as the Argentine as the newest of the three San Paolo tenors, alongside Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamsik.
The Zola-Insigne parallel was this week noted by Luciano Moggi. While someone always quick to offer his opinion on all Serie A happenings these days, considering he was instrumental in bringing the Sardinian to Naples in 1989, he does speak from experience.
Livewire Insigne – who has put pen to paper on a contract keeping him at the club until 2017 - burst into the starting XI during pre-season, impressing against German opponents Bayen Munich and Bayer Leverkusen. Against the Champions League finalists Insigne struck the winner. He featured for nearly all the match versus Bayer and assisted Hamsik, as well as causing a nuisance throughout. The Slovak praised the diminuitive youngster afterwards, noting, “Insigne has already demonstrated his true value.” For fellow teammate Goran Pandev, “Insigne is a strong player and he has personality. He reminds me of Lionel Messi in the way he plays and dribbles, even if Messi is the best in the world.”
High praise indeed. Insigne earned his recall to the San Paolo after dazing defences in the provinces for two seasons. He dropped to the third tier for experience after a debut Napoli appearance in January 2010, initially at Cavese, then crucially to Foggia under the tutelage of Zdenek Zeman. Insigne called the Czech tactician “fundamental for my growth.”
His 19 goals in 33 games impressed the veteran Coach, who took him to Serie B club Pescara last season. Fielded wide left in a three-pronged trident attack, Insigne was adept at cutting inside to utilise his favoured right foot. In 37 games he netted 18 goals and grabbed 14 assists.
With the Pescara class of 2011-12 famed for their breathtaking displays, Insigne’s pace, close control and ability to beat his marker often provided highlights. It opened the door for an Italy U-21 call-up. To date Insigne has played five matches and scored three times, including twice on his debut versus Liechtenstein. He looks unperturbed on the field, playing with a smile on his face and always with a cunning plan in mind to outfox defenders.
At just 21 years old he is by no means the finished product and will need to improve his decision-making. Insigne’s eagerness for goal can cloud his judgment. His role is to change slightly this season, with Walter Mazzarri set to tweak to a 3-5-2 system. Hamsik will sit deeper and Insigne will line up alongside Cavani, but with a free-roaming capacity.
Pandev responded to the inevitable Lavezzi comparison questions with further praise and a word of warning for the talent. “Insigne is different to Lavezzi. They are similar in one-on-one situations, but I think Lorenzo has a better eye for goal than Ezequiel. It will be up to Insigne to prove himself.”
The Naples native is well aware of the electric and at times suffocating atmosphere in the city, something Lavezzi spoke of, but must also deal with it. Even with plenty to prove, Partenopei supporters need not worry too much about the Argentine’s exit if Insigne continues down his current path.