It’s safe to say that Napoli’s summer mercato has somewhat gone under the radar, especially compared to Juventus’ and Inter’s big-money transfers. The Partenopei have been mainly working on their defence so far, as they already secured the signatures of Kostas Manolas and Empoli’s Giovanni Di Lorenzo, while also confirming the permanent transfers of goalkeeping duo Alex Meret and Davide Ospina.
While the prospect of having Kalidou Koulibaly and Manolas at the heart of the defence is a mouth-watering one, it’s also safe to say that Napoli desperately need to add some fresh blood in the middle of the park.
James Rodriguez has been the main name circulating in the media all summer long, but with Real Madrid refusing to lower their demands for the Colombian, Aurelio De Laurentis recently confirmed that the 28-year-old is no longer a priority for Napoli. There’s little doubt that the tifosi would be thrilled to see James coming in, but it really seems that the club has turned its focus to other targets.
Fenerbahce’s Eljif Elmas is expected to arrive in Naples in the next few days and become the first addition to Carlo Ancelotti’s midfield, which currently looks rather depleted. With Amadou Diawara moving to Roma and Marko Rog on the verge of joining Cagliari, the 19-year-old Macedonian is expected to get enough chances to prove his worth, so plenty will be expected from him. This logically leads us to one question: What can Elmas add to the current Napoli team?
Arguably Elmas’ strongest quality is his ability to steal the ball from the opposition and bring it up the pitch, either with some neat dribbling or a sharp pass. The teenager’s supreme technical ability and ball control also make him very effective in tight areas and in more advanced positions.
The 19-year-old’s passing range is also very impressive, as despite his tender age, the Macedonain international has a very good reading of the game. This allows him to move the ball efficiently enough, as highlighted by the 84% pass success rate in the Turkish Super League last term.
The Fenerbahce starlet also averaged 1.6 shots per game for the Turkish giants, but in all honesty you don’t need to look at the stats to see what type of player Elmas is, as just simply watching him play is enough in most cases.
Unlike many young players, Elmas is showing remarkable bravery, as he is not afraid to go up and down the pitch and can often be found in dangerous positions, as highlighted by his four goals last season. Another thing that differs Elmas from the majority of the other players at his age is the speed of his decision-making, as he always appears to be confident in what he wants to do and more often than not his decisions are the right ones.
It must be noted that for all of his pros, the Macedonian of Turkish origins has one significant flaw and that’s his physicality, as he definitely needs to work on his fitness in order to be able to cope with the demanding standards of Serie A.
However, talking about the youngster’s strengths and weaknesses without putting them into the frame of the Napoli playing style doesn’t tell us much.
The best Elmas performances in a Fenerbahce shirt were in a midfield trio, as the dynamism of his game allows him to efficiently cover each of the roles in that set-up. However, the youngster has performed well enough also in 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 formations, which showcase his versatility, and that’s probably one of the main reasons why Ancelotti wanted him in the first place.
Carletto mainly stuck to a 4-4-2 last term, but has often uses untraditional wingers like Piotr Zielinski or Fabian Ruiz on the left hand side, which allows him to tinker with the shape of his team during the game. Elmas’ technical ability, dribbling skills and tendency to go forward could give Ancelotti a valuable alternative in that area, as Simone Verdi seems to be on his way out of the club.
Another position that Elmas might feature in is the regista role, if Ancelotti decides to experiment in that direction once again, as the attempts of playing Marek Hamsik there resulted in mixed success before the Slovakian was sold in January.
However, Elmas can also be the vice-Fabian Ruiz and feature in a more advanced position or even cover part of the box-to-box functions of Allan.
Spending €16m on the teenager might look like a gamble for Napoli, but with Real Madrid, PSG and Arsenal following the player for a significant period of time, the transfer fee might look like a bargain in a few months time.
As Rog appears to be leaving the club for a similar amount, Elmas can be considered as his direct replacement. However, unlike the Croat, whose undoubted talent wasn’t able to flourish under Vesuvius, the club’s new young gem is farmore versatile and dynamic.
The biggest challenges in front of Elmas would be to improve his fitness and find his best position on the pitch, but having a mentor like Ancelotti should do wonders for the wonderkid, as Carletto knows how to shape rough diamonds and that’s exactly what Elmas is.