As summer descends over the Bay of Naples, the city feels a fair sense of serenity with Carlo Ancelotti on board. Despite the loss of midfield fulcrum Jorginho to Chelsea, there’s a belief that the good times under Maurizio Sarri will continue. One of the consequences of the Jorginho move, and indeed one of the more interesting facets of the new Ancelotti era, is the deployment of Marek Hamsik as the Italy international’s replacement.
While last season Hamsik was a pivotal cog in the Sarri machine, roaming up and down that left-hand channel he shared with Lorenzo Insigne, it wasn’t a vintage campaign by his lofty standards. Statistics, as manipulative as they can be, somewhat tell the story of his season: seven goals and only one assist.
In terms of cold, hard stats, it gives the impression of 2017-18 being his worst season, and in terms of assists it certainly was. Even in his first season with the Partenopei, Hamsik registered four assists as a young, precocious 20-year-old.
Compared to his 16-17 numbers, when he contributed 12 goals and some 11 assists, last season does feel like it marks the beginning of Hamsik’s decline as a marauding, box-to-box midfielder. Yet while he wasn’t entrusted with playing the last decisive pass to Dries Mertens or Jose Callejon, Hamsik was no less integral in Napoli’s build-up play, his slick passing and tactical intelligence key to ‘Sarrismo’.
It’s this tactical intelligence that has led Ancelotti to view Hamsik as a potential Jorginho replacement. The former Milan boss has previous with this kind of manoeuvre. Although wrongly getting the credit for turning Andrea Pirlo from a trequartista into a regista in 2001, it was Ancelotti who stuck by the World Cup winner when Milan had other options, like Demetrio Albertini, who had been interpreting the role for years prior.
Pirlo credits Ancelotti with further developing him as a regista, in essence finishing the job Carlo Mazzone had started. Pirlo, of course, would never look back.
Ancelotti hopes he can morph Hamsik from box-to-box raider to the more stealth-like Pirlo. While the mohawked star probably won’t interpret the role with the authority and elegance of Pirlo, there’s the real possibility that he will adapt to his new position without any difficulty.
Hamsik is said to be intrigued by the switch and will be trialled in the new role during Napoli’s summer friendlies against Carpi, Chievo and Liverpool. If he can make a success of the position, more in the manner of Pirlo and not Steven Gerrard’s post-2010 iteration at Liverpool, the long-serving Slovak could well extend his stay in the starting XI well into his mid 30s.
Indeed, there might just be a new leash of life in store for the Napoli icon.