Marek Hamsik: 12 years, 520 games and 121 goals. Nobody has played more games or scored more goals for Napoli than Marekiaro, who, despite winning only three trophies, has already earned his place in Calcio’s history books.
The Slovakian has been the main pillar of Napoli’s success in recent years and the €5.5m that the Partenopei paid Brescia in 2007 for his services proved to be a real bargain.
Hamsik was brought in at Napoli with the purpose of boosting the squad after their long-awaited return to Serie A and the then 20-year-old did just that. He finished as the team’s top goalscorer in the league with nine goals in 37 appearances - a sensational feat for a midfielder of his age, as Napoli finished in impressive eighth place.
In the following season Hamsik banged 12 goals between Serie A and Coppa Italia and finished as his team’s top goalscorer for the second season in a row. He quickly became a fan favorite, as he already possessed all the qualities of a modern world class midfielder.
However, Napoli had many quality players at the time, most notably Ezequiel Lavezzi and a few years later Edinson Cavani, who both proved to be world class talents. What made Hamsik special for the Neapolitans was his passion every time he stepped onto the pitch. Pure, raw and an honest passion that embodied so well the culture of the South.
Napoli’s passion also lead to their biggest triumph at the time, as in 2012 the Partenopei defeated Antonio Conte’s Juventus in the Coppa Italia Final 2-0. Hamsik scored the second goal in the game and Napoli won their first major trophy since Diego Maradona’s era. The Slovak was already a legend.
The departures of Cavani and Lavezzi shortly after further cemented Hamsik’s status as the main pillar of the team. Unlike the South American duo, who were tempted by PSG’s lucrative offers, the Slovak remained and proved his unconditional love for the club.
Unfortunately for him and all of Naples, despite the multiple Scudetto assaults in the last few seasons, Hamsik’s best years have coincided with the era of the Juventus juggernaut. Napoli finished in the top three in five of the last six seasons and despite failing to win the title, the Partenopei repeated their Coppa Italia triumph in 2014 and won the Supercoppa the year after.
Coaches and players were often changed during those years, as Cavani and Lavezzi made way for Dries Mertens, Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Callejon, while Rafa Benitez was replaced by Maurizio Sarri before Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival in the summer. However, Hamsik remained a constant during all those years and established himself as Napoli’s longest servant.
Hamsik is leaving Napoli with only three trophies, which seems an ungrateful return for all the efforts and quality that he displayed during his 12 years at the club. However, judging the importance of the Slovakia international based on the trophies won would be a huge mistake, as loyalty and passion is what made him the legend he is today.
The tifosi of the Partenopei have been let down more often than would’ve liked in recent years, as many of their heroes chose money and trophies over their love. Cavani, Lavezzi and most notably Higuain all left Napoli for huge transfer fees, but just like the trophies, money do not matter for the fans, as the tifosi see those departures as betrayals.
Despite moving to the Chinese Super League for a reported wage of €9mln per season, it is highly unlikely that Hamsik’s move would be labelled a betrayal from anyone. After Ancelotti’s appointment, Hamsik has often been left on the bench and forced to cope with a peripheral role in the squad. This is a huge shock for a player, who’s been the main force in the club’s best period since the days of Maradona.
For all of his quality, we also have to admit that at 31, Marek Hamsik no longer possess the engine he once had. Ancelotti’s attempt to postpone the inevitable and transform the Slovak into a regista has produced mixed results. However, Hamsik is no Andrea Pirlo and with Juventus stronger than ever as well as the Milan giants slowly finding their feet, the truth is that Napoli cannot afford to field an ageing midfielderout of position.
Yes, he might have another year or two on a very good level, but would he really be able to cope and make the difference for Napoli like used to against the ever-strengthening competitors?
For a player who is used to being an integral part of the team and who has given so much to Napoli and the tifosi, it seems only right to let Hamsik choose the next step in his career. After all whenever Napoli needed him, he did not leave - he performed on a constant basis, year after year. That’s why now is not the time to judge. It’s just the time to say ‘Goodbye, Marek Hamsik - a legend of Calcio’.