If the 2018 World Cup has taught us anything, it is that age is just a number. After all, 45-year-old Egyptian ‘keeper Essam El Hadary saved a penalty on the same day he came the eldest player to ever feature in the competition.
Meanwhile, 19-year-old France forward Kylian Mbappé continuously affirms his status as one of football’s brightest prospects with a stellar showing against Argentina.
Napoli will show that same faith in young talent when 21-year-old Alex Meret stands between the sticks as their first-choice from next season.
Udinese legend Antonio Di Natale has hailed the youngster as the 'new Gigi Buffon', claiming he could be Napoli's starting goalkeeper for the next decade.
From Simone Scuffet to Mattia Perrin, Vincenzo Fiorillo to Gianluigi Donnarumma, it's a line we've heard before. What makes Meret any different?
While he does most things well, his swift reflexes stand out as one of his strongest assets. He rose to prominence at the U-19 Euros in 2016, where Italy made the Final and he the team of the tournament. A stellar shot-stopping performance against Germany in particular turned heads.
He has since spent the last couple of years on loan at SPAL from Udinese, earning promotion from Serie B as champions in 2017 with the second-best defensive record.
A concern will be his lack of experience at this level. He has only played 13 Serie A matches, all while on loan at SPAL this season. In that time, he did keep a clean sheet against Juventus, though his showings against Inter and Sassuolo were far more impressive.
Still, trading a baker's dozen of top flight appearances for the experience and talent of Pepe Reina is sure to have an effect.
Milan-bound, the 35-year-old Spaniard is a man who has done it all, won it all and known as a positive presence in the dressing room.
Fortunately for Udinese, Meret comes with a Plan B in the form of Udinese teammate Orestis Karnezis. The 33-year-old stopper, on loan at Watford last season, is part and parcel of the deal that takes Meret to Naples.
The purported €35m deal is for the pair, with Meret likely commanding a hefty chunk of that. And with that comes some pressure. Karnezis will act as a back-up ‘keeper and mentor to the 21-year-old, but it is very much Meret's show.
Aurelio De Laurentis was candid about the club’s desire to sign one of Keylor Navas, Alphonse Areola or Meret, opting for the latter. With Perin moving to Juventus for €15m and German Bernd Leno going to Arsenal for €22m, he must justify such a weighty price-tag on a ‘keeper yet to make a senior international appearance.
Many are convinced Meret will be the real deal one day. But for a side such as Napoli, who came closer than most to loosening Juventus' stranglehold on the Scudetto, they need the real deal now.
But the potential reward for placing their faith in Meret is great. The situation of most young Italian shot-stoppers will be juxtaposed with that which saw Donnarumma emerge as Milan's undisputed Number One at the age of 16.
With all the makings of a generational goalkeeping talent for Milan and Italy, his case may differ somewhat, but Milan disregarded age as a factor in their choice for the No 1 spot and have been richly rewarded.
Maybe Meret is to young, too inexperienced. But if it provides any relief to Neapolitans, the last goalkeeper Carlo Ancelotti purchased was Keylor Navas from Levante in 2014 while managing Real Madrid.
Three Champions Leagues later, it didn't work out so badly for Real Madrid, with Navas known as one of the best shot-stoppers in the business. Meret has all the tools to go just as far.
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