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While everyone else his age is busy looking to move on to a bigger club, the Slovakian prepares for his seventh season with Napoli, writes Aditya Bajaj

 Aditya Bajaj
 Feature | Serie A
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Ezequiel Lavezzi, Marek Hamšík and Edinson Cavani.

Every time the stadium announcer introduced the holy trinity on match days, the opposition feared the trio while the fans roared in euphoria in anticipation of the devastation these guys would carry out on behalf of the city of Naples.

After five seasons at the Sao Paolo, Lavezzi moved on to big spending Paris St. Germain to further his career, while the Uruguay international joined him shortly a season later to re-unite in France but Hamšík is still a Neapolitan six years after his arrival as a 20-year old back in 2007.

It’s not that the Slovakian has had no offers over the past few seasons. After all, he is easily one of the best attacking midfielders not just in Italy but in Europe. Creative, guile, pacey and hard-working – slowly he is developed into that nearly complete midfielder that every ‘big’ team dreams of every summer. 

According to media reports, he was Sir Alex Ferguson’s plan B to Wesley Sneijder in case the deal for the Dutchman didn’t go through, and Milan’s plan A all throughout the summer of 2011 - the famous ‘Mr. X’ who Adriano Galliani kept chasing to finally have a real attacking midfielder in his side to play behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic and co. Both failed to sign him and have continued to struggle for creativity in midfield so prevalent in abundance in the past. By his own admission, the player states that he almost agreed to join Milan before Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis convinced him to stay for his own good – a decision he does not regret.

The reason why he hasn’t created much buzz in the last couple of transfer windows is not because he is not a wanted man like his peers who have switched sides to clubs that guarantee regular Champions League football. It’s just that he is not interested – plain and simple.

"I want to become Napoli’s Totti’’, is what he recently said when asked about his future and in the current environment, the thought in itself is so refreshing not just for the club and its fans but for the casual football fan too.

It gives you hope that for some, football is still more about the game, the team and the love of the fans. It’s not just about the money and vast fortune that comes with it.

In the six years since his switch from Brescia to newly promoted Napoli, Marek Hamšík has seen a lot of changes apart from his funky hairdo. His value has increased six times to over €35 million, he has captained his beloved Slovakia to their first ever appearance at the World Cup, he has along with his teammates taken Napoli to the biggest club competition in the world, won them their first major trophy last year in nearly 20 years and mounted a Scudetto challenge last term only to finish second to Juventus.

MAREK HAMSIK | NAPOLI STATS


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MAREK HAMSIK

Season Games
Goals Assists Minutes per goal
Total Minutes
2007-08 40 10 4 245 3043
2008-09 36 10 7 231 2693
2009-10  39  12 6 270 3360
2010-11 50 13  10  269 3520
2011-12 50 12 11  362  3813
2012-13  44  11 21 297  3494
Total 259 68 59 279 19923

All this despite still being only 25 and yet to peak, mind you.

You feel for the player sometimes, more so when his contribution is overshadowed by the 30 odd goals that his teammate scores every season using his service upfront. If Cavani has been Napoli’s marquee player over the past three seasons, Hamšík has been the architect. His creativity and eye for goal has led the Partenepei to many a victories over the past seasons and for that he is not just one of Serie A’s best players but also its most underrated.

Pushing back to help the midfield, then using his pace to spark off an attack by distributing the ball to the wings and in a blink of the eye, charging towards the penalty box to assist the forwards or score one himself – Hamšík is more of a Frank Lampard than a Francesco Totti. Or maybe, he is a bit of both given the amount of passion and loyalty he is shown towards his club both on and off the pitch like the two legends of Chelsea and Roma respectively.

In an era where every summer you have a Luca Modric or a Mario Gotze wanting a transfer out to a bigger club to take the next step in their careers, Hamšík is doing the opposite in giving back to the club that moulded him to what he is today by taking them to new heights every season regardless of the lack of continuous Champions League football and the sacks of money and glamour that comes with being part of the elites of the continent.

His patience is paying off, certainly. Cavani has left, Lavezzi left some time ago but next season he will be the focal point of Rafa Benitez’s new look Napoli that will challenge not only for the Scudetto and will also look to do what Borussia Dortmund did in the continent last season. Maybe, he knows that he is already playing for a ‘big’ club unlike Robert Lewandowski who continues to sulk over Dortmund’s decision to keep him against his wishes.

"Nowadays it is more difficult, but I want to be like Totti and Del Piero. I hope to do so. This is the seventh season in blue, but I'm as hungry for victories as I was the first day I set foot in Naples."

When players move to bigger clubs, they often state ‘ambition’ as being the primary motive behind their switch – fair enough. But being part of a club and going from not winning to winning and taking it from nowhere to somewhere is being ambitious enough too, and that is what keeps players like Hamšík on their toes and equally motivated season after season.  It really must feel something else to be a part of such a project and go down in history as a legend of the club, as one of their own – their flag, their symbol. Never mind the dearth of trophies then – that’s just a small part of the game.

The fans pay to watch you, and you repay their faith by being loyal to them – there is no bigger trophy than that.

There is nothing wrong with moving on to different clubs every now and then, that’s normal and everyone has choices to make and they know what’s best for them. Yet, one can’t help but respect players like Hamšík differently for lending hope to the millions of fans who are not sure of watching their favourite players in the same jersey every season – especially when their club is not capable of keeping them with exciting financial offers.

After completing his move from Fiorentina to Manchester City recently, Steven Jovetic thanked the Viola by stating that he came in as a boy and leaves as a man.

Well, Marek Hamšík is a rare gem, because he is been man enough to stay every season.  

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