For all the talk of Arsenal’s redemption arc under Mikel Arteta or Newcastle’s unlikely but increasingly convincing Champions League push, neither can be called the story of the European season so far. That title belongs to Napoli.
Not only are the club looking likely to end a 33-year wait for Serie A title, currently sitting nine points clear at the top, but the manner in which they are doing so is quite remarkable. Much of their first team was changed last summer, with previously key players including Kalidou Koulibaly, Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens, who helped define a particular era of development but near misses for the club, all departing.
Such a turnover in one transfer window is difficult to manage, but doing so with the efficiency and intelligence Napoli showed deserves incredible respect. They didn’t spend what they’d recouped, and the likes of South Korean Kim Min-jae, Frank Anguissa and Kvicha Kvaratskhelia have stepped up immensely. The Georgian has garnered particularly close attention for his unique wing-play style.
Nicknamed ‘Kvaradona’, which is as big a compliment any attacking player can be paid in Naples, is something of a throwback; Kvaratskhelia loves to run and beat players with effervescent skill. Primarily, he excites the crowd and has a talismanic nature about him. It was certainly needed after the departures of Mertens and Insigne, who took on that mantle before.
But this kind of change is nothing new. Napoli have been one of those clubs who expertly navigate the transfer market for years, basing their recruitment strategy on finding quality, occasionally unwanted or unfashionable players, gelling them together as a collective and selling for profit or replacing when they get too old. Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Marek Hamsik and Gonzalo Higuaín are all examples of this well-oiled machine working over the past decade or so.
Luciano Spalletti is a coach who specialises in getting the most out of his tools, but he’ll be aware that the process could start all over again next summer. In fact, winning the Scudetto makes it more likely, not less.
Victor Osimhen, the Nigerian striker, will be the most in-demand player in the summer. That almost feels inevitable. At 24, Osimhen is approaching a key moment in his career, and with three years in Italy under his belt, Napoli may also view 2023 as the optimum time to sell to the highest bidder. One season in Ligue 1 with Lille was a good grounding in European football, too; whoever buys him will be getting the finished article.
This is no longer about potential; he is the finished article and his price will reflect that.
Interested parties, which reportedly includes Manchester United, have been told to pay around €100m for him. That is a rather damning indictment of the market these days, but even more startling is that may actually be the going rate for a player of Osimhen’s level and type. After years of teams playing with no pure strikers, they seem to be returning to fashion, but with so few elite ones around, the best are going for a premium.
At 6’1, with pace, intelligent link up play and movement, Osimhen does appear to be the right fit for a Premier League team. Of the top sides this season, only Erik Ten Hag’s Red Devils are performing well without a striker. Chelsea are struggling to fill the void up front in their side, but that has been a long-term problem. Tottenham have Harry Kane, Arsenal signed Gabriel Jesus last summer, Newcastle have Alexander Isak and Callum Wilson, while Liverpool and Manchester City led the new trend by recruiting Darwin Nunez and Erling Haaland respectively.
Both Chelsea and Manchester United have had issues with strikers, each trying to find quick solutions to a long-term issue. Both felt they had solved it properly by signing Romelu Lukaku, but he proved too physical and not mobile enough in both cases. Osimhen is the perfect balance between the two; he can lead the line alone and link up with play. It is hard find any reason why he wouldn’t be an ideal addition to the Premier League.
Now seems like the perfect time to act for all parties. Osimhen is Serie A top scorer with 12 goals so far this season, and he averaged better than one in two in Italy; if he wins the title with Napoli, there is little else left for him to achieve. The club will be aware of that, and the fact that he is a rare commodity in a world that finds him increasingly desirable, making this summer the best time to cash in. And for interested clubs, there aren’t many better options ready to hit the ground running.
All things considered, it feels like a matter of time before Osimhen becomes the latest big money Napoli exit.