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Time for the Hamsik to step up as Napoli faces Champions League mountain

The club captain has never quite reached the heights of 2011 in recent seasons, with Tuesday's draw showing that his side is struggling as a result.

In 2011, Milan and Inter were the best two teams in Italy. The Rossoneri had just denied their city rivals their sixth straight Scudetto and had their eyes on the one player everybody in the nation seemed to want. His name was Marek Hamsik.

"He costs 100 million euros,” his Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis told the Corriere dello Sport as the Hamsik saga reached its most fervent during that memorable summer. "But, if I really do have to sell Hamsik, I’d give him to Inter. Adriano Galliani never asked me for him, whereas Massimo Moratti did and was very polite about it. He asked me three years ago for Hamsik, then two months ago enquired if anything had changed. I replied no, but I was impressed by his attitude.”

Yet despite their best intentions, neither Milanese side managed to close a deal on the Slovakian, with De Laurentiis’ asking price proving to be around 50 million euros more than what either was willing to pay for the attacking midfielder.

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And as the Napoli president witnessed the latest in a string of underwhelming performances from Hamsik, during a 1-1 home draw with Athletic Bilbao in the Champions League playoff first leg Tuesday, he must surely have wondered what might have happened had he cashed in when he could have.

The past three years have largely seen Hamsik stagnate. Once the partner in crime for Ezequiel Lavezzi, he is now the emblem of what Napoli is missing rather than one of the icons of its positivity.

At 27, he should be blossoming ahead of the peak years of his career but instead looks like a loose end at the head of Rafa Benitez’s midfield, and Tuesday’s draw typified many of his performances in recent seasons.

Not only did he go missing at key moments, he also failed to show his face when Napoli needed some leadership and direction from the center of the field. He couldn’t hit the target with one early chance, then took the ball out of the path of the onrushing Jose Callejon, favoring an awkward hook shot with his back to goal that was never going to trouble Gorka Iraizoz.

If anything, Napoli looked far more dangerous after Hamsik was replaced by Michu with 13 minutes to go. If De Laurentiis is ever going to be proven right for valuing Hamsik so highly, the ex-Brescia man has to become the player of 2011 again sooner rather than later. Next Wednesday in Bilbao would be a good time to start.

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