Finally, after months of speculation, hearsay and rumour, it was over. “I’m happy to have renewed my deal with this club,” Juan Camilo Zuniga told Radio Kiss Kiss on Thursday. “I’m happy here and I consider the city of Naples my home. I want to keep doing well in order to pay back the faith of the club and the fans.”
It was a clear show of harmony from the Colombian wing-back, and one the Napoli fans had been desperate to see for some time. With his contract at the Stadio San Paolo set to end in 2014, there had been worries that the 27-year-old would opt to see out the rest of his deal and hop on the first train to Turin in the summer. Juventus were constantly linked with a move for Zuniga during the off-season, with several reports in the Italian Press suggesting that Antonio Conte’s men had a number of bids for the defender turned down by the Partenopei.
Even with this extension until 2018 though, there are niggling doubts that Zuniga won’t stay the full course in the southern city. Papers in both Italy and Spain have suggested that Barcelona could be a possible destination for the versatile Colombian. With Dani Alves approaching the wrong side of 30 and rumours of a potential approach from Paris Saint-Germain for the Brazil international, the Camp Nou looks like a genuine option for Zuniga.
Added to that comments made by his agent that the contract includes a release clause ‘proportionate’ to the defender’s value, and things aren’t looking quite as rosy as they first seemed earlier this week. “The clause is proportional to the value of the player,” Riccardo Calleri told Radio Marte. “It’s a major deal for Zuniga and for the club. We signed a long contract, so he might well end his career at Napoli – we will see in five years. The clause is useful and proportional to Zuniga’s value. All I’ll say is that it’s more than €30m.”
Calleri may have been coy, but with offers of €35m expected to be enough to pique the interest of President Aurelio De Laurentiis, there is genuine cause to believe that Zuniga could be off next summer anyway.
We’ve already seen with Edinson Cavani that Napoli are willing to part with their best players if the right money comes in, but whereas Marek Hamsik, Lorenzo Insigne and Gonzalo Higuain could take the weight of losing the Uruguay hitman, it’s difficult to see how the Partenopei could replace Zuniga should his release clause be activated.
After being signed in 2009 from Siena, the No. 18 has become one of the Azzurri’s most dependable and consistent performers, making over 100 League appearances and becoming the go-to man, first as a wing-back under Walter Mazzarri, and now in a more orthodox back-four for Rafael Benitez.
Steady, reliable, versatile and dynamic, Juan Zuniga has shown for over four years now that he is one of the best full-backs in Europe. With Napoli now fighting on a domestic and European front with genuine hopes of silverware, all Partenopei fans will be hoping that the Colombia international will stick around long enough to become a title winner at the San Paolo.