You probably couldn’t get 250 candles on any commemorative cake Marek Hamsik may have had but that does not mean he doesn’t deserve every single one of them. The Partenopean captain arrived from Brescia in 2007 and has been outstanding in most games since. However, sadly for much of last season and this, his status and game have undoubtedly slid.
When he was part of the Three Tenors, along with Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani, he was unstoppable, his dizzying and jinking runs fooling everyone before he laid off the perfect ball for Cavani to score.
It was a talent many of Europe’s top clubs envied, but no longer. Today critics slight his influence on the field and debate whether it is Coach Rafa Benitez’s tactics, Marekiaro’s position in the midfield or simply a lack of character.
Certainly the latter is well debatable as the Slovak is the consummate professional and a pillar of the Napoli dressing room. Undoubtedly amongst the fans, who can sometimes show all the stability of a psychologically crippled stick of dynamite, floating on top of a barrel of equally unstable nitro-glycerine, hovering above Vesuvius, he is a real terrace hero. That’s over and above the fact that he was the only one who did stay, after all the badge kissing of the Three Tenors. “Marek is a real Neapolitan more than most who live here,” said President Aurelio De Laurentiis last season.
Then there were his heroics before the Italian Cup Final in Rome when he brokered the peace with the Napoli Ultras and the game went ahead thanks in a large part to him. He is also a quiet, family man who is respected on and off the pitch and absolutely loves his club. “I would be very happy to spend the rest of my career with Napoli,” he said recently.
Yet undoubtedly the player who regaled everyone, first under first Edy Reja then Walter Mazzarri has continually failed to row an oar under Rafa. In Benitez’s rigid 4-2-3-1, the central attacking midfielder really needs to be dominant and Marek needs to be organising the tempo of the game and be the integral fulcrum between departments.
However, his movement off the ball is poor, his goal scoring ability seemingly lost and either dropping too deep or moving to the flanks sees him simply ineffective and easy meat for wised-up opposition. Perhaps it’s one of the reasons Napoli have failed to initiate play from central midfield like they used to.
Of course the squad’s poor form is not just down to Marek, as apart from Rafa’s obstinate stance on a 4-2-3-1 system, it simply does not have the players that are completely at home with it. In fact Marek, Lorenzo Insigne, Christian Maggio, Camilo Zuniga and Dries Mertens are often forced into roles that are not suited to their capabilities.
Napoli’s former DS, Pierpaolo Marino, who brought Marekiaro to Napoli, feels Benitez and his tactics are the problem. “Hamsik has a great ability to find space,” he said. “I think in Benitez’s formation he is bottled in a position.”
So what has gone wrong? To an extent his poor form last season could be down to injuries suffered but he should be well over them by now.
At the start of the season against Athletic Bilbao he scored but in truth, except for the odd touch, it was last season ad infinitum. However, since then there has been progress and against Palermo this week he was almost back to the old Hamsik.
Cooler than a Polar bear sucking on an ice lolly in a fridge, he orchestrated the play, distributing precise balls, with a pass accuracy of almost 90 per cent. He also had three shots on goal and just before setting up Duvan Zapata’s goal, hit the crossbar with a powerful left-footer from 18 yards.
Certainly everything that was good went through him and if the recipients of his balls had been more capable Napoli could and should have doubled their score. Maybe Rafa can get his captain back to his old self, he certainly has a history of doing this with individuals. If and when he does, Napoli fans will see a Marekiaro return to what everyone knows he is capable of. In the end this can only be a good thing for Marek himself, Rafa, the fans, the club and Serie A in general.