When Napoli splashed out €42m on Hirving Lozano last summer, they were putting out quite the statement. Not only did they make him the most expensive Mexican player in history and their own record signing, but he was supposed to represent the future of the Vesuviani’s front line. Instead, a series of unfortunate events have left the 24-year-old already scrapping to save his San Paolo career.
The stage seemed set for ‘Chucky’ to shine in southern Italy. Dries Mertens and Jose Callejon - both the wrong side of 30 - were entering the final year of their contracts and weren’t expected to extend them, Lorenzo Insigne was losing prominence under Carlo Ancelotti and doubts persisted over Arkadiusz Milik’s ability to stay fit and score goals on a regular basis.
“We’ve signed a very good player,” Ancelotti said of the new boy. “We’ve worked on bringing him in for some time. It wasn’t a simple deal, but he increases the quality in our attack... He can play on the right, behind the striker, as a centre-forward and sometimes on the left. We were interested in that too. We like versatile players. We don’t want specialist players. He’s an attacker, but he’s also unpredictable.”
And therein lies the problem. Lozano’s versatility has counted against him, to the extent that Napoli still haven’t worked out his best position. He flourished for PSV as an inside left forward, yet Ancelotti’s insistence on a rigid 4-4-2 formation saw him struggle to fit in centrally as one of the two strikers or out wide as a touchline-hugger. Then Carletto was replaced by Gennaro Gattuso, who reverted Napoli to their 4-3-3 roots.
Gattuso’s appointment should’ve been the making of the Mexican, but instead the consequences have been catastrophic. The former Milan boss quickly binned the big-money buy, preferring to focus on his predecessors. Opting to take a leaf out of the Maurizio Sarri blueprint, Rino brought in Matteo Politano – an inverted right winger, mirroring Insigne on the opposite flank.
Things took a turn for the worse in February, when the World Cup winner completely cut Lozano from Napoli’s squad to face Barcelona in the Champions League. “Lozano has to work harder and improve to be ready,” warned the coach at his press conference for the 1-1 draw. “Right now, I am looking for different qualities that he doesn’t have, so at the moment, I have no space for him in my team.”
Due to the long and protracted nature of negotiations, unsurprisingly stemming from Aurelio De Laurentiis’ demands for 100 percent of image rights, Lozano didn’t get a full pre-season under his belt and he was forced to start the campaign with PSV, failing to score in five, half-hearted appearances. That came after he suffered a knee injury in May, which kept him sidelined for two months.
With the coronavirus pandemic starving him of a shot at redemption, his status as Napoli’s record signing should’ve earned him the right to be spared judgment until next season. However, Gattuso has made it clear that Lozano has no place in his plans for the Partenopei, with Insigne – once his strike partner under Ancelotti - once more considered undroppable on the left wing, where ‘Chucky’ played his best football in Netherlands.
De Laurentiis appears ready to part with Lozano for €50m, which is more than the €42m he agreed to pay PSV last summer. Interest has intensified in England, where Newcastle United and even Manchester United have been linked, although the Ancelotti factor could push the attacker towards a reunion at Everton. However, would any of them really be willing to invest €50m in a player who has just three goals in 23 games this season?
That leaves Napoli with a huge decision on their hands. Does Gattuso give Lozano the tools to light up the San Paolo with his undoubted quality, building the team’s attack around him, or does the club cut its losses before his price tag plummets? The latter would be the most sensible plan of action at this stage, but De Laurentiis rarely settles for sensible.
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