It is fair to say that an otherwise quiet summer in Serie A has been lit up by the goings-on at Napoli. After being linked with numerous ludicrous arrivals – including Diego Maradona – they did manage to pull of arguably Europe’s most surprising transfers so far this summer. Although Juventus’ rebuilding process has slowly and steadily warranted headlines, everyone was blown out of the water by Napoli’s shock signing of Edinson Cavani.
President Aurelio De Laurentiis made it clear that his priority was to sign a goalscorer to complement the elegance of his current forwards, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Fabio Quagliarella. After being linked with a host of strikers, Cavani’s signing was announced out of the blue. The Uruguayan hitman was always going to leave Palermo (who finished two places above Napoli last season) this summer, but was linked to some big clubs around the continent. It emerged that Wolfsburg and Inter were leading the race, and logically it seemed Cavani would join the Italian and European champions. Much credit must go to De Laurentiis, who somehow persuaded Cavani to strengthen Napoli’s attack rather than warm Inter’s bench. A season-long loan was sealed, and next summer De Laurentiis will part with €17m for his permanent signature. The only worry may be the pressure on Cavani’s shoulders to lead the charge this summer after an unusually quiet transfer window for Serie A clubs so far.
Walter Mazzarri proved to be an astute appointment when he was handed the Napoli job last November after Roberto Donadoni’s poor start to the season. This will be Mazzarri’s first pre-season with the club, although wild rumours during the World Cup suggested he may not get the opportunity to continue. Maradona, following an Argentina win, supposedly claimed that he dreamed of managing Napoli. A return to the Stadio San Paolo for Maradona was a prospect to drool over, until reality kicked in and his managerial flaws were exposed. Mazzarri is a less glamorous name, but a much better Coach.
Fabio Cannavaro was another big personality who was linked with a return. It was inevitable that, with his Juve contract ending, he would be rumoured to go back to the club where it all started. Thankfully for the Napoli faithful, the less popular Cannavaro brother opted for the riches of Dubai after De Laurentiis made it clear he did not want to sign him. Indeed, it has been Paolo Cannavaro’s future that has been in question. Napoli’s captain is more than a fans’ favourite – his hometown status links him with the Ultrà and his presence commands respect – but his contract is finishing next summer, and negotiations with De Laurentiis have, so far, been spectacularly unsuccessful. Napoli’s season may depend on tying down their inspirational leader to a long-term contract.
Mazzarri’s boys will compete in Europe next season after qualifying for the Europa League. The competition is not always taken seriously by the biggest clubs, meaning the door could be open for Napoli to mount a genuine challenge. Mazzarri has limited, and one unsuccessful, experience of Europe’s secondary club competition when he coached Sampdoria in the UEFA Cup, and Napoli fans will hope he learned from that early exit. It is worrying, though, that with an extra competition to play, Napoli’s squad has not increased in numbers. Germán Denis has been carted off to Udinese to make way for Cavani, but Napoli may struggle to seriously fight domestically and in Europe. Luca Cigarini has left for Sevilla, so if their transfer dealings are finished, then they may be better suited to focusing on Serie A and treating the Europa League as a side-project.
Burn-out is also a concern for De Laurentiis. He recently stated that he does not want his South American contingent flying home during the winter break, and will instead pay for them all to holiday in Italy. He may be better suited using that money to bring in a couple of extra bodies to bolster a small squad. One man who looks like he may join in the near future is veteran striker Cristiano Lucarelli.
Assuming Juventus reclaim their usual place in the top four, Napoli may be left scrapping to be the best of the rest. This will be no mean feat though, as Sampdoria and Palermo’s excellent seasons last term indicate they will be challenging too, although Cavani’s switch from Palermo to Napoli should give the San Paolo outfit an edge over the Sicilians. And with Mazzarri starting his first full season, few would bet against Napoli improving on last year’s sixth placed finished.