Friday September 5 2014
Blooming Benitez’s Napoli

Napoli have had a less than average summer transfer window but Dave Taylor believes that the grass isn’t always greener elsewhere.

If Napoli was a municipal garden it would be late Autumn and its plants would be preparing for winter and getting ready to blossom in glorious harmony in Spring. However, this season without the backing of the council, in this case owner Aurelio De Laurentiis, gardener Rafa Benitez has not been able to transplant older, more experienced plants into the garden that were needed to help it flourish as it should.

Napoli’s reseeding last summer saw the arrival of several exotic species, yet this summer’s transplants have been defiantly underwhelming. Napoli fans are consequently unhappy and De Laurentiis was forced to defend his lack of spending.

“I’ve heard many things these days, but what I want to express is the total confidence in this team,” he emphasised. “In football you have to have balance, there is no mathematical formula to win, but often by overdoing it, it threatens to ruin everything.”

Whether fans go along with that reasoning after suffering the Champions League exit and the narrow win over Genoa is debatable. For them the bottom line is that several obvious holes have still not been filled to their satisfaction. It seems Napoli tried but moves for top players like Javier Mascherano, Maxime Gonalons, Cristoph Kramer and Mario Suarez all fell through for one reason or another.

Yet notwithstanding the overall state of affairs, there have been four newcomers who do look promising and could add to the overall strength of the club.

The first is Kalidou Koulibaly - a big, solid French-born central defender from Belgian outfit Genk, who despite his size has amazing pace and has also played as a winger and right-back. It was thought he was back-up to Raul Albiol and Federico Fernandez but surprisingly the Argentina international, who was one of the most consistent players in the second half of last season, was sold. Fortunately Koulibaly seems to have settled in immediately and the 23-year-old, who cost Napoli €7m, could prove a very useful seedling.

Next came Spanish utility striker/midfielder Michu, who has looked steady if not spectacular in pre-season. However, he does have the experience and the attitude to be a fine deputy for either striker Gonzalo Higuain or midfielder Marek Hamsik or even a striker in his own right. Two years ago arriving in the Premier League aged 26 he was a sensation with Swansea, scoring 18 times in 35 league games. Sadly his second season was beset with injuries but for the relatively low loan fee of €1m over the season, he could just prove to be a solid import.

Another former Swansea player replanted in Napoli is Jonathan de Guzman, a graduate from Feyenoord who after spells with Mallorca and Villarreal spent a solid two years on loan at Swansea. It was with the Welsh outfit that Napoli scouted him, and this summer paid Villarreal a highly reasonable €6m for the 13-cap Dutch international.

The 26-year-old is versatile and can play as an attacking midfielder, central midfielder or on either wing. Perhaps his best position in Benitez’s 4-2-3-1 would be as one of the twin pivots - not as the defensive piece, perhaps more in the Jorginho role - and as he showed against Genoa he also knows where the goal is.

In spite of these arrivals, the lack of a top class defensive midfielder was worrying. Then at the last moment in came David Lopez and, although no panic buy, he was just not first choice.

Benitez is aware of his integrity and style in the Espanyol side last season and the Spaniard will look to take over the role that was vacated by Valon Behrami. He is one to break up play, is tough in the tackle and, able to also hold on to the ball, at €5m he could prove to be the ideal replacement.

Yet despite these arrivals overall the feeling amongst many Napoli fans is of lost opportunity. It seems to many that the team has not progressed from last season. But perhaps the new boys are the seedlings that could blossom into real stars Rafa’s garden, only time will tell.

Have your say...
Hey Me,

Do you have an agenda against Benitez by any chance?? Your comments are refuted by the bloke's record. He has won trophies at every club he managed since Valencia, including Napoli last season in case you didn't notice? As for unsustainable budgets Eric -what budget did he have at Inter (none) Chelsea (none) or Napoli? As I understand it, he doesn't sign the players or sort out transfer fees.....

Such is the power of myth and prejudice eh?

Forza Napoli!
on the 11th September, 2014 at 6:27pm
They haven't improved from last season and will probably fall short again.

But they'll still be favourites for 3rd spot and are capable of getting to the latter stages or even winning the Europa League.
on the 7th September, 2014 at 4:45am
Napoli are struggling because Benitez is their coach. They just scraped into the CL, tho they have failed to even reach the group stages. He makes mediocre buys, focuses on the whole group in the sense that he doesn't believe in players; he believes in systems and in his system. Guys are interchangeable. They're all parts in his bogus 4-2-3-1. And Napoli will struggle more this season.
on the 6th September, 2014 at 4:29pm
Napoli for what is worth still has a good squad of players and a half decent scouting system plus a president = tifosi which backs them so i don't think it is all doom and gloom. With or without rafa napoli will be a strong club. Personally rafa seems so accustomed to massive unsustainable budgets he might as well try to get a job back in the epl.
on the 6th September, 2014 at 3:26pm
I don't care what is said - FORZA NAPOLI
on the 6th September, 2014 at 7:14am
in all honesty, atm, Atletico Bilbao at San Mames >>> Juve or Roma.
Napoli have been one of the feel good stories in Italia, its just pathetic that one blip should undermine 10 years of devotion & hard work De Laurentiis has put in the club.
I would rather have a presidente' like De La rather than a Berlusconi, Agnelli, Lotito, Zamparini, etc
give them time, this Napoli team will surprise you.
on the 6th September, 2014 at 4:55am
As it is always, the first signs of life from the south immediately means the claws come out from Milan and Turin.

Undermine, insult, defame, decry, publish as many inflammatory articles as possible to undermine the confidence of the team and tear it apart. Same as it has been since long before Maradona. Courtesy of other "italians" whatever that term means anymore.
on the 5th September, 2014 at 7:47pm
The team just seems off so far, both in the Champions League and Serie A. Getting rid of Behrami, Pandev, and Dzemaili without firm replacements is just odd. Like Pandev said: Why would you want to break up the Napoli team that has achieved so much over the past couple of years?

Without being said the team is still solid enough to make a serious push for the Scudetto
on the 5th September, 2014 at 6:26pm
There is a massive wave of negative press for Napoli this season. They are surely stronger as a team. One year playing together with Rafa included. There have been a few small rumblings that have caused the current wave of negative vibes and the simply too early prelim against such a good side like Athletic(who Roma and Juve would struggle very much against). Lots of bravado talk from ex Juve Roma AC players, and the persistent Moggi rubbish, but time will tell all...
on the 5th September, 2014 at 4:14pm

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