Football Features

Hit or miss? Every Napoli signing to replace a star name since 2012

By Oliver Young-Myles

Published: 16:30, 13 September 2022

They haven’t quite managed to reach the Diego Maradona-inspired glory days of the late 1980s and early 90s, but Napoli have consistently competed towards the top end of the Serie A table over the past decade.

Although their wait to land a third Serie A title is now in its 32nd year, Napoli have often been the side closest to Italy’s dominant force Juventus, securing four second-place finishes in recent years as well as winning a couple of Coppa Italia trophies.

Their renaissance in Italian football started to gather pace during the 2010/11 season when a team spearheaded by the exciting attacking trio of Marek Hamsik, Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi tore opposition defences to shreds.

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None of those players now remain at the club. But while world-class stars have been sold on, Napoli have managed to remain competitive by replacing outgoing transfers with equally talented footballers while often turning a profit at the same time.

So how have the players brought in to replace first-team regulars fared in Campania? Here Squawka analyses the hits and misses of Napoli’s recruitment.

2012/13 

Sold: Ezequiel Lavezzi to PSG (£24m) | Signed: Goran Pandev from Inter (£6m)

Napoli appearances: 124

Verdict? Miss

A tough call, this, as Goran Pandev actually fared pretty well at Napoli, spending three seasons at the club and being a regular starter for much of that time.

In total, the Macedonian managed 22 goals across 124 matches for Napoli and considering he cost approximately a sixth of the fee recouped by Lavezzi’s sale to PSG in 2012, his transfer must be deemed as a successful one.

However, while Pandev was an effective presence in the final third, he lacked the electrifying pace and panache that Lavezzi supplied throughout his five seasons in Naples.

The Argentine was a real fans’ favourite at San Paolo and played a key role in helping to re-establish them as a force in Italian football before doing likewise with PSG in France.

After Pandev left, his position on the left flank was taken by the local boy Lorenzo Insigne who, like Lavezzi, became a darling of the home support before leaving for MLS in the summer.

Sold: Edinson Cavani to PSG (£54m) | Signed: Gonzalo Higuain from Real Madrid (£33m)

Napoli appearances: 146

Verdict? Hit

Just a year after Lavezzi packed his bags for Paris, Edinson Cavani followed suit, joining PSG in a club-record £55m deal. The move was undoubtedly a blow to Napoli as the Uruguayan had plundered 104 goals in 138 games, including 38 in his final season.

However, Napoli’s then-manager Rafa Benitez had the perfect replacement lined up, securing the services of Real Madrid‘s out-of-favour Argentine Gonzalo Higuain.

Higuain had spent a considerable part of his career in the Spanish capital but rarely had he been an undisputed first-choice starter with Karim Benzema preferred. Eventually, the lure of first-team football in Italy proved too much for Higuain turn down.

Suffice to say Higuain (who now plays for MLS outfit Inter Miami) flourished at Napoli, scoring 91 goals in 146 games and even equalling a Serie A record that had stood since 1928/29 for goals scored in a single season with 36 in 2015/16.

Furthermore, Napoli also signed Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens with the proceeds from Cavani’s sale and still had money spare. Outstanding business.

2014/15

Sold: Federico Fernandez to Swansea City (£8.5m) | Signed: Kalidou Koulibaly from Genk (£6.5m)

Napoli appearances: 277

Verdict? Hit

Napoli gave Federico Fernandez his big break in European football, signing him from Argentine club Estudiantes and (following a difficult couple of seasons) he finally established himself in the side in 2013/14.

His form resulted in a call-up to Argentina’s World Cup squad and a move to the Premier League soon beckoned with Swansea identifying him as the perfect partner for Ashley Williams.

Fernandez has hardly been missed since leaving, however, thanks to the astute signing of the towering Senegalese defender Kalidou Koulibaly, who joined from Genk a few weeks later.

Over the past few seasons, Koulibaly emerged as one of the finest defenders in all of Europe, prompting Chelsea to go all out for his signature over the most recent summer, but Aurelio De Laurentiis will be hoping his replacement (more on that later) can become another ‘hit’ on this list.

2015/16

Sold: Gokhan Inler to Leicester City (£6m) | Signed: Allan signed from Udinese (£10m)

Napoli appearances: 212

Verdict? Hit

Gokhan Inler developed into an all-action midfielder during his time at Napoli and at one time he was considered to be one of the most influential players in his position in Europe.

The former Switzerland international captain was a virtual ever-present member of the Napoli engine room during his four years at the club but, after slipping down the pecking order in his final season, he opted to leave for Leicester.

Coming into replace him was the Brazilian Allan who, like Inler, was signed from Udinese. Instantly, Allan became an integral player and was one of the unheralded stars of recent Napoli teams.

Like Koulibaly, Allan often found himself linked with moves away from the San Paolo and, indeed, he left in 20202, joining Carlo Ancelotti at Everton to become an important player at Goodison Park (when fit). In more recent times, though, the Brazilian is often overlooked by Frank Lampard.

2016/17

Sold: Gonzalo Higuain to Juventus (£76.50m) | Signed: Arkadiusz Milik from Ajax (£27.20m)

Napoli appearances: 122

Verdict? Miss

Just as they did with Cavani, Napoli helped Higuain develop into one of the biggest names in world football before selling him on for an enormous profit.

Arkadiusz Milik knew he had a huge job on his hands if he was to emulate Higuain’s achievements, but he certainly made an excellent early impression at the club, scoring seven goals in his opening nine games.

An ACL injury halted the Poland international’s progress in its tracks, but he showed incredible strength of character to return to action despite initially being ruled out for the 2016/17 season.

However, Milik damaged the ligaments in his other knee in September 2017, ruling him out for a large part of the 2017/18 campaign as well. He showed some promise on his return again, netting 34 goals between 2018/19 and 2019/20, but certainly not to the heights of Higuain before he was sent out on loan to Marseille last season, and then recently signing permanently for Juventus.

2018/19

Sold: Jorginho to Chelsea (£50m) | Signed: Fabian Ruiz from Betis (£26.6m)

Napoli appearances: 166

Verdict? Hit

Brazilian-born Italian Jorginho developed into one of the tidiest central midfielders in Europe during his five-year stay with the Partonepei. Making 160 appearances in all competitions and scoring six, Jorginho was central to Napoli’s heroic late rush for first-place in Serie A last season, before ultimately falling four points short.

Despite many thinking he would be heading to Man City, the Italy international moved to Chelsea in 2018 to rejoin former boss Maurizio Sarri and although he was a scapegoat at times, won the Europa League under his tutelage. Having gone through several managers since Sarri’s departure, Jorginho continues to play an influential role in the heart of midfield at Stamford Bridge, and he will be hoping to continue that under recently-appointed Graham Potter.

Meanwhile, Napoli brought in Fabian Ruiz to replace the outgoing Jorginho at half the price. The tall central midfielder was a crucial player in La Liga for Real Betis and has continued to show his talent in Italy, establishing himself in the Spanish national team as a result of his fine performances for Napoli — and even alerting the attention of PSG, who picked him up this summer.

Club Paddy Power William Hill Sky Bet
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PSG 5/1 5/1 9/2
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Real Madrid 10/1 9/1 9/1
Barcelona 10/1 12/1 12/1
Tottenham 17/1 14/1 18/1
Chelsea 20/1 20/1 20/1
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Sold: Allan to Everton (£21.7m) | Signed: Tiemoue Bakayoko from Chelsea (loan)

Napoli appearances: 44

Verdict? Hit

As mentioned, Allan departed for Merseyside in 2020, leaving a huge gap at the base of that Napoli midfield. The Italian club sought to plug that gap with the loan signing of Chelsea outcast, Tiemoue Bakayoko, on a season-long loan.

The one-time France international was a mainstay in Gennaro Gattuso’s side, making 44 appearances across all competitions in his one season, which ultimately attracted the attention of AC Milan last summer, who took the mercurial midfielder off Napoli for a two-year loan spell from Chelsea.

Sold: Fabian to PSG (£18m) | Signed: Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa from Fulham (£10m)

Napoli appearances: 37

Verdict? Hit

Although a part of Napoli’s team last season when Fabian was orbiting the Campanian centre-circle, Anguissa’s permanent inclusion on the Partenopei roster will undoubtedly remedy the midfield void created by the now PSG star. Anguissa’s move to Italy from Fulham last season seemed a bizarre match. Here was a player who struggled to make a lasting impression in the Premier League for a relegated club, moving to an Italian powerhouse via a fruitful spell at Villarreal.

And it was certainly that stint in Spain that caught the eye of Napoli. Anguissa was a revelation at the Estadio de la Ceramica in 2019/20, and took that dominant midfield form to Napoli last term. His performances were such that Luciano Spalletti made his signing a permanent one this summer, and already in that mauling against Liverpool fans have started to see just how influential the robust Cameroonian really is. He will be a huge player for them this campaign, and beyond.

Sold: Kalidou Koulibaly to Chelsea (£34m) | Signed: Kim Min-jae from Fenerbahce (£16m)

Napoli appearances: 6

Verdict? Jury’s out

Adequately nicknamed the “Monster”, Min-jae is a defender with tremendous strength, skill and determination, three traits that will serve him well under the ever-demanding Spalletti. And already he’s showcased his potential, scoring two Serie A goals in just five games, and holding his own against Liverpool’s world-class attack. It’s not worth assessing Min-jae’s form in too much detail during these embryonic stages of his Napoli career, and while the jury is certainly still out, the early signs are promising.

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