It’s summer, which of course means transfer madness. Milan and Everton have signed all the players. Of what’s left, Manchester United are signing the tall ones. Manchester City are taking the full-backs. Roma are taking whoever is affordable. West Ham are taking whoever is gullible.
Amongst the chaos, two teams – Napoli and Tottenham – stand out in the transfer market as much as they did in their respective campaigns last season. While the latter have signed nobody so far, the former have brought in only the Algerian winger Adam Ounas, from Bordeaux. Funny, too, given that Spurs also love signing little-known Ligue 1 wingers, though expectations will be higher for Ounas than they’ve been for Clinton N’jie or Kevin-George N’koudou.
Last season, both were teams of tactical intelligence, of hard work, of youth and swaggering, eviscerating attacking football. Both are lined with brilliant young players that the richest clubs across Europe surely covet.
The unbelievable form of Insigne, Mertens, Callejon and Hamsik (Napoli ended the Serie A season with 94 goals – Juventus with only 77) will have put targets on their backs, and in midfield Zielinksi, Diawara, Rog and Jorginho were also extremely impressive. At the back, Koulibaly is a perma-target for the super-wealthy, Hysaj and Ghoulam aren’t lost on anyone and it won’t be long before Maksimovic is thought of in the same vain.
Essentially, the whole Napoli team are tempting purchases for anyone with enough cash to try to prize them away and the corragio to negotiate with Aurelio De Laurentiis. The same can be said of the Spurs squad and their chairman.
Yet, here we are. It’s July 19 and beyond Manchester City paying 50m for a fullback who, before Pochettino got hold of him would run the ball out of play more often than he would provide an assist, neither club has lost anyone.
They may still, of course. Manchester United continue to snuffle around Eric Dier like a hound at a foxhole. Napoli’s signing of left back Mario Rui from Roma may be a depth move or pre-emptive of a departure for Ghoulam. On that, here are the thoughts of the excellent @SempreSSCNapoli:
Pep Guardiola, meanwhile, is trying to fill his bald back-up keeper vacancy by replacing Willy Caballero with Pepe Reina. The Spaniard would be a loss to Gli Azzurri, but not a devastating one.
Ultimately, whoever they may end up bringing in, for Napoli and Tottenham keeping together the squads that did so well last year is paramount, and key to their chances of success in 2017/18.
But what constitutes success for each club? Given the level of competition in the Premier League, their financial constraints and a year playing at Wembley, Spurs can at best hope to remain in top three. Another title challenge will be difficult, but achievable.
Napoli, however, must view this season as their chance to win the Scudetto for the first time since 1987, when the great Maradona led them to glory evading tackles and tax bills with equal élan.
Look at their competitors. Juventus are weakened. The departure of Bonucci is significant, though softened by the presence of Rugani and Benatia. Dani Alves has left, the numerous old players are a year older, central midfield still needs sorting out and we’re yet to see what kind of condition Higuain will return in (mostly kidding). Juve obviously remain title favourites, but they do not look as fearsome a proposition as they did a year ago.
At Roma, a revolution. After achieving their record points total, the Giallorossi have lost their manager Spaletti, Antonio Rudiger, Mohamed Salah, Wojciech Szczęsny, Mario Rui and Leandro Paredes. Manolas will likely leave too.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Eusebio De Francesco is an excellent replacement as manager. Monchi is on board as Director of Football [cue John Terry telling us that he’s worth 12 points a season] and he’s buying cheaply and efficiently in the form of Karsdorp, Gonalons, Moreno, Pellegrini and Cengiz Under. Defrel and one or two others will also arrive, but this new squad will need time to settle and adapt, and challenging for a Champions League place is the best they can expect.
Milan are the elephant in the room. I needn’t bother listing their whole team of new signings. It’s an impressive squad they are building, especially if they do manage to secure Belotti. Like Roma, however, they will need time to gel, and whether Montella is the manager that will get the best out of them is seriously debatable. Milan probably need another year and a change of coach before the seriousness of their title bid will match that of the names on their team sheet.
The conditions, then, are perfect for Napoli with their unchanged and exceptional manager, barely-altered squad, like-a-new-signing Arkadiusz Milik, contractually-renewed Dries Mertens and local hero Lorenzo Insigne to end Juventus’ dominance.
In his novel, The Paradise of Devils, Franco Di Mare said of Naples, “The basic philosophy of life seemed to be: What do I care? It’s none of my business.”
That is exactly how Napoli should think of their competitors throughout summer and going into next season. They’ve followed their own path, and it may well lead to glory. This is the squad that can do it, and this is the time.
Do you believe that Napoli can win Serie A? Let us know in the comments below, or on Twitter.