There was an air of inevitability when it emerged that Arsenal had toppled Napoli for Nicolas Pepe. All summer, the Partenopei have been looking to add a marque attacking signing to their ranks but, as yet, have failed to do so. The feeling that this year is their year to catch Juventus seems to be driving their ambition, but they have not been able to deliver. What’s next for Carlo Ancelotti’s team and why have they lost out again on another big name?
The hard part seemed to have been done. Pepe’s agents had been to Napoli’s preseason camp, a fee had been agreed. This was no easy task as Lille President Gerard Lopez announced his €80m asking price had been met. All that was left was for Pepe’s representatives to agree their commission (€10m) on top of a €5m salary. That was when Azzurri patron Aurelio De Laurentiis stalled and tried to barter with the commission, allowing Arsenal to make a bid, have it accepted (as well as the commission) and steal Pepe.
Perhaps the fact that the Gunners offered an extra €1.5m in salary was the real clincher, but Napoli could have finished this deal by now. This will be a source of frustration to Carlo Ancelotti, whose transfer window started well with the signings of Kostas Manolas and Eljif Elmas but stuttered when looking for their pièce de résistance. Their deal for James Rodriguez has also so far failed to bear fruit, despite Jorge Mendes talking to Ancelotti and Napoli’s representatives after the Coach said, ‘there is neither optimism nor pessimism, we'll see what happens.’
This could be a major blow to the Partenopei as Real Madrid now look like taking James off the market. Napoli sporting director Cristiano Giuntoli was under strict orders to only take the Colombian on loan – a move Los Blancos were not interested in as they instead they wanted to stick to their €42m asking price. Has Napoli’s slow approach now hurt them twice in securing two major deals?
So, what next for the Neapolitans? There is still talk of Mauro Icardi moving to play his football at the San Paolo, but Ancelotti - while praising his abilities - was cool on the subject of talks. In fairness, the Argentine’s unwillingness to leave Inter, despite being told there is no place for him, could mean this is one of the only deals that could be better suited to a drawn-out process. It may be that as the transfer window closes, the urgency for the Nerazzurri to sell could see the striker move for slightly cheaper than expected.
A more realistic option for Napoli seems like being PSV forward Hirving Lozano. The Partenopei could ultimately swoop for the Mexican with a €45m bid after having a €35m offer rejected some time ago. It will be interesting to see if the club can learn from their past mistakes and move forward quickly for a target who, like Pepe, can supply an abundance of goals from a wide position.
Perhaps the search for a big-name signing was to warn Juventus and Inter that Napoli meant business in this Scudetto race, but until now it hasn’t worked out. Instead, their stubborn and slow approach in the market has seen them miss out and it will be interesting to see if this changes. With De Laurentiis in charge, it’s doubtful as his combative style will not always work with some clubs.
Napoli should start the new season with a very effective and dangerous team, but their lofty ambitions would be matched with Icardi and one of Lozano, James and Pepe.