Napoli seem prepared to sell one of their strongest players this summer for a cut-price fee. Rob Paton tries to understand why.
“Until the club decides to sell me, I’m happy to stay here,” offered Walter Gargano late on Wednesday evening. Having had perhaps his strongest season in a Napoli shirt last term, that the 27-year-old has been linked this summer with a number of Champions League-qualified clubs across Europe should not be a surprise. That he is not pushing for the move but his club are ready to listen to offers as low as €6m, though, makes rumours of his departure somewhat puzzling.
Arriving at the San Paolo five years ago from Uruguayan football as a relative unknown on Italian shores, the stocky midfielder’s progress at the club has been such that he can now be described as a point of strength in the Napoli team.
Strong-willed and hard on opponents, Gargano has offered Walter Mazzarri’s side a competitive fortification in the centre of the park in recent seasons, one that has also been dynamic enough to contribute to attacking play, through some clever passing and charging runs. Where eyes were on Gokhan Inler to lead the team a year ago, it was Gargano who emerged as the more reliable engine for the Vesuviani, as Inler was even dropped from the first XI at one point.
Yet, Gargano is a point of strength that the club are reportedly willing to listen to offers for. Planning without the Uruguayan is most notable in focus on Mazzarri’s new formation, with the changes being made in midfield specifically not naming him.
“With this new system, everything will be played around Inler. We are going forward with the Swiss,” revealed Mazzarri at the club’s Dimaro pre-season base last week. Talking of the individual, the Coach could equally have been referring to the entire central unit. Beyond Inler’s Pirlo-esque role in his new 3-5-1-1 formation, attention is on how the versatile Blerim Dzemaili and the new arrival Valon Behrami will work in the middle.
There has been little discussion for Gargano’s place on the field. As he came on as a second-half substitute in Napoli’s first pre-season fixture of the summer, his performance was described as that of someone ‘in a tailspin’. Giving away possession on several occasions and visibly off the pace against an amateur side, the footballer has all the signs of uncertainty.
Contractually, there is little reason to this, though. His €1m-a-season wage is at the high end of the middle-range earners at the San Paolo and he still has three years to run on it. Reportedly and conversely, he has also been offered a 10 per cent pay-rise and a further two years added on. However, the theory as to why the club are happy to sell him remains and it is based around a ‘silent revolution’ said to be taking place.
Last season can be defined by the Vesuviani’s struggle to balance the Champions League campaign with their Serie A commitments, with Mazzarri accused of an over-reliance on the titolarissimi – the untouchables in the first XI. The belief was that his preferred starting line-up was so overused that it had left the team tactically unable to launch a plan B when required and mentally fatigued by the end of the season.
His subsequent decision to change formation this summer and to discard Gargano is along the same logic that has seen a number of people at the club seemingly shrug off Ezequiel Lavezzi’s departure with an assuredness that ‘Goran Pandev is better’.
Napoli have identified this summer the need for a flexible squad. Whilst that is most immediately apparent in having a different formation if required, it also has reportedly meant a focus on building a dressing room made up of players who are more accepting of technical choices made. Lavezzi’s candour of frustration every time he was benched last term is perhaps why Pandev, whose 30 League appearances last term boast 11 from the bench, has been described as offering the club more than the Argentine would have in 2012-13.
Lavezzi’s reluctance to drop out of the first XI is also believed to have been a reaction taken by Gargano and this is primarily thought to be why he is on his way out. Aurelio De Laurentiis responded positively to his declaration that he wants to stay, but even his message to the midfielder contained a warning that he must be prepared to play less than before.
The club know his value to them when he is happy and on the pitch. The Uruguayan’s characteristics have offered everything that Napoli have needed and wanted so as to get to this point in their development. However, they are acting this summer with the belief that he may not now have the right character to match those abilities, should squad rotation take a stronger focus in Napoli’s aim for further progression.