With Napoli closely challenging Juventus at the top of Serie A, Alex Mott wonders if Gokhan Inler is the man they should be thanking.
When the Three Tenors are on song, sometimes it's hard for your voice to be heard. With Edinson Cavani, Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi, Napoli could claim to have one of the best attacking triumvirates in Europe.
Their pace, movement and mercurial class saw them challenge at home and abroad, but often at the expense of others. A host of others names at the Partenopei were crowded out under the brilliance of the attacking trio.
Juan Camilo Zuniga, Christian Maggio and Paolo Cannavaro were all instrumental in the San Paolo side's success under Walter Mazzarri, but never got the recognition they deserved. And the same can be said – perhaps even more so, of Gokhan Inler.
The Swiss midfielder has been the driving force behind the Neapolitans since his arrival in 2011, but it's only now, since the sale of Lavezzi to Paris Saint-Germain, that fans and pundits alike are seeing what has been in front of them for 18 months.
His signing during that summer marked a shift in Italian football. Not since the Diego Maradona days had Napoli been such an attraction to established, high-level players. But with their high-intensity, close-pressing game, the southern side were becoming big players again. Inler was being tracked by a host of top teams around the peninsula, but he opted for the 800km move south instead.
His driving commitment, range of passing and peripheral vision have transformed the Azzurri from nearly-men to genuine title contenders, able to push Juventus all the way this season. He has become the beating heart of this Partenopei team – often dragging them single-handedly through periods of games.
It's no small feat for a man very few had heard of five years ago. His arrival at Udinese caused no fanfare, no Beatlemania scenes, but his decision to leave in 2011 was perhaps more hard-felt than others the Zebrette have had to endure.
Francesco Guidolin's loss was of course Mazzarri's gain, and he has quickly come to rely on Inler as his on-pitch general – tough-tackling, leading by example, something that he reinforced in September this year after a 2-1 victory against Fiorentina. “It was one of those games that will decide what happens at the top this season, and Gokhan made the difference.”
It was the most eloquent of statements, perfectly encapsulating what Inler is all about – producing in the biggest games against the best teams. His consistency since arriving in Italy has been staggering, and it's no over-exaggeration to proclaim that, right now, he is one of the best central midfielders in the whole of Europe.
Champions League football is an absolute must for the San Paolo side, because if for some reason they don't finish in the top three, some of the biggest clubs will be sniffing around the 28-year-old, offering big money. With him providing the bullets, and Cavani firing them, top three should be the least they expect in 2012-13.