From pretenders to contenders: Transfer window setting the stage for Napoli

With a hefty budget to spend this summer, the Azzurri look set to challenge Juventus for the Scudetto this season...
 Ayush Srivastava
 COMMENT | Serie A
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Having lost their talismanic striker, Edinson Cavani to Paris Saint-Germain in a €64 million deal this week, one would have thought that the Partenopei faithful might feel despondent about their fortunes in the coming season.

However in reality, the club’s outlook heading into a league campaign must not have been brighter, since the days when Diego Maradona graced the jersey of Napoli.

For gone are the days when the Italian club had a sell-to-buy policy, as seen by their reluctance to sell Cavani for anything less than his release clause.

And unlike before, they are no longer hunting for bargain basement signings, who might turn out to be future stars, but are now running after proven talent.

Backed by a rather generous budget by their President Aurelio De Laurentiis, which was augmented by Champions League qualification and now further inflated by the humongous fee received for their former Uruguayan star striker, Rafa Benitez has been given the mandate to chase stars like Gonzalo Higuain and Leandro Damiao.

The Spaniard took over the helm from Walter Mazzarri, and many thought that he had yet again undertaken a thankless job, as it seemed that Napoli had reached their optimum, when they finished second in the Serie A, with almost everyone sure that Cavani would be on his way out.

Rafael Cabral Barbosa - Full Ownership - from Santos
José María Callejón Bueno - Full Ownership - from Real Madrid
Dries Mertens - Full Ownership - from PSV XI
Omar El Kaddouri - Full Ownership - from Brescia

Benitez though, seems to have learnt from his previous mistake of joining an Inter Milan which had already peaked, and took assurances from Laurentiis before agreeing to a return to Italy, from where he left with his reputation in tatters.

Quite frankly, he had a thankless task of taking over an aging squad which was primed for Jose Mourinho’s tilt at Champions League glory, which was duly achieved. However with owner Massimo Moratti deciding to tighten his purse-strings thereafter, Benitez had a roster which was set to go into decline, which has continued even since he has left.

But with Napoli backing him with money, with Laurentiis claiming he has a huge budget of €124.5 million to splurge, the former Liverpool manager has already got down to business, with some clever signings.

Promising young goalkeeper Rafael Cabral has joined from Santos, and is touted as being the next Brazilian number one custodian, and he gets the chance to stake his claim for a berth in the 2014 World Cup squad.

Meanwhile Belgian attacking midfielder Dries Mertens has switched over from the Eredivisie, along with Real Madrid’s Jose Callejon, both of whom add a lot of pace, trickery and adaptability in the attacking third for the Italian side. With Lorenzo Insigne continuing his rapid progress through the ranks, Napoli could boast of strength-in-depth that they have never enjoyed before, in attacking areas.

With Raul Albiol set to add top-flight experience and a winning mentality at the back, this team could certainly compete to reach the latter stages of the Champions League, especially with Rafa Benitez’s own undoubted pedigree and tactical nous in European football.

Their eyes though, will firmly be on ending their long drought and finally winning the Scudetto, on which Juventus seem to have a firm grasp over the last two seasons.

It won’t be easy of course, with Antonio Conte’s side adding the likes of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente upfront, meaning that they have the kind of firepower that they never had before.

However if Benitez is, as he hopes to do, brings in a couple of more reinforcements in defense and midfield, where he intends to bring in a play-maker to dominate the game from deep, as well as adding further firepower upfront, in the form of Damiao or Higuain, and maybe even both, to play as a pair, then Napoli would definitely be a force to reckon with.

Marek Hamsik has already brought into the project, quashing any chance of him following Cavani out of the club and is optimistic of being one of those who brings back the glory days to Naples.

For the former Valencia boss himself, it seems like an ideal situation, where he gets to build a club according to his own philosophy and with a generous backing from the board for a long-term project which shall help him restore his reputation in Italy, which took such a beating during his time with the Nerazzurri.

With what looks like an exciting transfer window in front of them, the stage is set for him and Napoli, to set things in order, and moving from pretenders to actual contenders, in both, Italy and Europe.