In Naples, if you ask for three, you are lucky if you get two and so it proved for the Partenopei when they wanted a trio of wise men, but had to make do with a brace. A shame that, as it was almost three, but Ron Vlaar suffered an injury, ruling out a January move from Aston Villa.
Still beggars can’t be choosers, as the other two Magi who made the star-crossed journey seem shrewd enough choices. The first, striker Manolo Gabbiadini, hails from east Lombardy while left-back Ivan Strinic comes from the eastern shores of the Adriatic Sea in Croatia. The pair were brought in for the gifts they bear in reinforcing the squad while also giving the first-teamers in their respective positions real competition.
The brightest star of the two is Italian international Gabbiadini, who arrived from Sampdoria for €13m, signing a contract until 2019, while Croatian international Strinic came on a free from Ukraine’s Dnipro. “They are two quality players, who will bring balance to the team,” maintained Napoli Coach Rafa Benitez. “Strinic can play deep or further forward on the left and has real experience. Meanwhile Gabbiadini is Italian, and that’s important for the future and a step forward. I will speak with him to understand what his best position is but he can play four roles.”
As Benitez says it is very important for the future that Gabbiadini is Italian as next season’s new FIGC rules mean Serie A clubs must limit their squads to 25 players. From this four need to have grown up in Italy while another four need to have come through the club academy.
Apart from that very important feature, Gabbiadini can also play on either flank or in midfield. There is even talk that he could replace Gonzalo Higuain who could move to Liverpool, if Benitez returns there in the summer. Certainly big boots to fill but to all accounts he can do it.
With seven goals in 13 games for Samp this term the 23-year-old, who joined the Partenopei after they bought out his co-ownership deal with Juventus and Sampdoria, is ready to do his very best for Napoli. “This is a great club with a great Coach and great players,” he said. “I’ll always give everything and I will always honour the shirt and do my talking on the field.”
Manolo, who graduated from the famed Atalanta nursery, made his Serie A debut in March 2010 before a season-long loan spell with Serie B’s Cittadella, but he really made his name with Ciro Ferrara’s Under-21 side, scoring 12 goals in 24 games.
Originally wanting to be a goalkeeper, the 1.86m tall striker has played in the middle for most of his career but also played on the left flank for Sampdoria. Consequently he will be invaluable in that role with Lorenzo Insigne’s injury and Dries Mertens’ unpredictable form. Furthermore he gives Higuain much-needed competition and is a real boost to Benitez when he wants to bring a strong, attacking alternative from the bench.
The youngster, who is an agile, mainly left-footed player, can control a ball, hold it up and is unafraid of hard work, while showing in his debut as a sub against Juve that he has a big future in Naples.
Meanwhile Strinic is destined to be a serious alternative to Faouzi Ghoulam, who is currently playing for Algeria in the African Nations Cup. “He may take some time to adapt to Serie A but he will be a great buy for Napoli with his pace and work rate,” said his former assistant Coach and ex-Juve defender Igor Tudor. “Coming from the Ukrainian League, which is very strong, at least at the top end, he has bags of experience and possesses excellent technique.”
A left-back by trade, Strinic is equally adept at playing in a midfield five and is an excellent ‘buy’ for Napoli and along with Gabbiadini, in these straightened economic times, a worthwhile investment.