A fantasista of yesteryear, Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne is one of the few remaining of his kind. His flamboyance and trickery could turn out to be the missing ingredient in Italy’s bid for World Cup glory, even as the 22-year-old goes through a mixed term at the San Paolo.
It hasn’t been easy following in the lineage of Diego Maradona and Gianfranco Zola for the fledgling Insigne. The native of Naples has been denied a sheltered existence at his boyhood club while coming to grips with Rafael Benitez’s 4-2-3-1 this season. “At Napoli if you’re a striker and you don’t score, then you’re nobody. With Benitez I am called to act as a winger and this means more sacrifice,” Insigne has felt obliged to explain.
In fact, the pacy attacker craves getting in on the action: “Of course I won’t disguise that I’d prefer to play closer to the goal. I was accustomed to playing in a 4-3-3 with Zdenek Zeman at Pescara.” The reference comes automatically. After all, it had been in Zemanlandia that Insigne showcased his true mettle. The Czech first appeared to unearth a raw gem at his beloved Foggia, where Insigne banged in 19 goals in 33 appearances.
Another year and a step up to Serie B followed as his 18 strikes during Pescara’s successful promotion campaign thrust the precocious talent right under the spotlight. Drafted in back at Napoli to replace the departed Ezequiel Lavezzi, Insigne endured a marginalised existence with Walter Mazzarri before being tipped to play a starring role under the incoming Benitez.
But despite weighing in with nine assists so far in standout performances against Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal and Juventus, getting involved at the business end still has not come quite regularly enough. “The Coach asks us wide men to help the defence and I try to work for the squad, which means I am a little less sharp in front of goal,” he has cited.
Dispense with menial tactical tasks however, and like all fantasisti Insigne shines. Unshackled in a free role on the left at the European Under-21 Championships last summer, the pint-sized forward terrorised the Azzurrini’s opponents via his low centre of gravity, silky changes of pace, free-kick ability and overall knack for the unpredictable.
Recent friendly tests indicate senior Italy lack a player of Insigne’s ilk aside from Andrea Pirlo - someone who can transform the outcome of a game through the drop of a shoulder, or a sublime set-piece. The effervescent dribbler would add great variety and mystique to the Azzurri’s approach should Cesare Prandelli opt for a 4-3-3 setup. A prospective reunification with former Pescara teammate and fellow World Cup hopeful Ciro Immobile is also on the cards, ensuring the Coach has a prolific partnership ready made at his disposal in Manaus.
Like recent predecessors Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero, Insigne’s flair play can be an ace concealed in Italy’s arsenal this June. The one-of-a-kind starlet is well placed to carry on Calcio’s long-standing tradition with fantasisti.