After midfield stalwart Walter Gargano was gifted to Inter, Scott Fleming asks if transfer malpractice is threatening to undermine Napoli's challenge.
One of the few legitimate criticisms you could level at Napoli during recent seasons was their lack of a tactical Plan B. It was the 3-4-2-1 or nothing. This summer, that has changed. But instead of devising Plan B, Coach Walter Mazzarri has came up with a whole new Plan A – a 3-5-1-1.
Ostensibly it's not the most radical of shifts. If you have the Napoli Subbuteo set, all that's required is to pick up the spiky haired figure representing Marek Hamsik and drop him into central midfield.
The results achieved with this new system in pre-season, however, have been spectacular, from a 3-2 victory over Champions League runners-up Bayern Munich last month to Monday's 3-0 trouncing of Olympiacos.
And if the club hadn't thrown such an enormous tantrum in Beijing after their 4-2 defeat to Juventus in the Super Cup 12 days ago, more attention might have been paid to their performance. Which was splendid.
But just as the new system has its beneficiaries, it also has its victims, with some of the Vesuviani's most talented players left out in the cold. A lot of hype and column inches has already been devoted to young forwards Lorenzo Insigne and Eduardo Vargas, but neither has actually spent very much time on the field yet, and barring an injury to Goran Pandev, that doesn't look like changing.
In the 3-5-1-1 there is only one space for a player of their characteristics, and with Ezequiel Lavezzi having joined the ever-expanding group of Serie A ex-pats at Paris Saint Germain, Pandev – the scorer of a delightful dinked effort in Beijing – has his name on it.
Consequently Vargas, deemed worthy of an €13.6m fee on his arrival in January, is now being linked with a loan move to every club in the western hemisphere, including Siena. On Monday their sporting director Stefano Antonelli revealed his Napoli counterpart Riccardo Bigon had “made it clear he needed time to think,” suggesting even those at the highest levels of the Partenopei hierarchy are conflicted over exactly what to do with the 22-year-old Chilean.
And that isn't the most dubious transfer business the southern side have been involved in this week. That honour goes to the gifting of Walter Gargano to Inter on a €1.5m loan deal, with a €5m option to make the move permanent next summer.
Gargano can claim to be one of Europe's most underrated midfielders. Not only was he a key protagonist in the Champions League adventure last season, he also possessed symbolic value, having been a tigerish presence at the heart of Napoli's midfield ever since their return to Serie A in 2007.
“I want to point out that I wanted it,” said the Uruguayan in an open letter to fans yesterday, but that doesn't absolve the club of blame. The reason he wanted it was because he had been made to feel unvalued and marginalised this summer, by the signing of Valon Behrami from Fiorentina and by being benched for the Supercoppa.
Having pursued the likes of Aly Cissokho and Federico Balzaretti throughout the summer, the apparent abandonment of the search for a new left wing-back, leaving them reliant on the right footed Juan Zuniga and the eminently unreliable Andrea Dossena, is equally difficult to fathom.
The forthcoming season is ripe with opportunity for the Neapolitans. With no Champions League to distract them and other contenders weakened by player sales or in states of transition, there's a chance for Mazzarri's side to finish in the top three again, to qualify for the Champions League again, and maybe, just maybe, to win the Scudetto again.
But unless Bigon and Co get their act together before the transfer window shuts next week, those opportunities could be wasted.