By Aditya Bajaj
Once upon a time, Napoli had a ‘holy trinity’ of their own. Every time the San Paolo stadium announcer read the names of Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik, the crowd would go wild in anticipation of what feats the trio would conjure up.
But now, just one remains in Serie A. Lavezzi moved on to big-spending Paris Saint-Germain last summer, with Cavani joining him in the French capital last week. Hamsik, on the other hand, is still a Neapolitan.
It isn’t for a lack of interest though. Creative, pacey and hardworking, he has developed into that complete midfielder every big team dreams of each summer. He was Manchester United’s plan B if they had failed to lure Wesley Sneijder to the Premier League in 2011 and was AC Milan’s famous Mr X the same year.
Both tried and failed to sign him and are still crying out for some creativity in midfield. By his own admission, the 25-year-old almost agreed to join Milan before Partenopei president Aurelio De Laurentiis convinced him to stay, which he certainly does not regret.
"I want to become Napoli’s Totti," he said recently when quizzed about his long-term future. Like his fellow professionals, he is a wanted man, but he simply is not interested - something refreshing in an age when players are seemingly detached from fans and move for exorbitant sums of money each summer.
Hamsik proves that for some, football is still about the love of the game, the club and fans, rather than the money that comes with fame.
MAREK HAMSIK | NAPOLI STATS
During his six years at the club, much has changed. When he arrived, Napoli had only just returned to Serie A; last term they finished an admirable second. He has played in a World Cup, the Champions League and has captained his country, Slovakia. And, at 25, he is still yet to hit his peak.
And yet, he still seems somewhat undervalued. Cavani and Lavezzi got the goals and the glory, but the former Brescia man has been the architect of their success. His creativity has been the key to victory for years and not only is he one of Serie A's best players, but one of its most underrated too.
He puts in a shift at both ends of the pitch, dropping deeper into midfield to help win the ball back before pushing forward and looking for a killer pass. Perhaps he is more Frank Lampard than Francesco Totti, but his commitment to the collective cause has shades of both stars.
In an era when you have the likes of Luka Modric and Mario Gotze repaying their clubs' faith in them by insisting on a transfer to a team with more prestige, Hamsik is doing the opposite, giving all he can to repay his employers, who have moulded him into the player that he is.
His patience is paying off, certainly. Cavani and Lavezzi may be in Paris in pursuit of riches, but Hamsik will be the focal point of Rafa Benitez's team as they look to go one better and win the Scudetto and make a splash in the Champions League.
Perhaps, he already knows that he is already playing for a big club, unlike Robert Lewandowski, who continues to sulk because Borussia Dortmund did not grant him a move to arch rivals Bayern Munich.
|"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, but I'm as hungry for victories as I was the first day I set foot in Naples"
- Marek Hamsik
Players often move on to bigger clubs citing ambition as their primary motive, but Hamsik is showing more than enough ambition. He has seen Napoli go from a team fresh out of Serie B to one challenging for the Scudetto - he is at the forefront of a project that will go down in the history of the club. He is their flag, their symbol.
The fans pay to watch you, and you repay their faith by being loyal to them – there is no bigger trophy than that.
Desire to experience a different country, a different league and a new style of football is perfectly understandable. But you can't help but respect players like Hamsik, who seem to be genuinely doing their job for the fans, who get the thrill of seeing their favourite player representing their club year after year.
When Stevan Jovetic completed his move from Fiorentina to Manchester City, he thanked the Viola for making him into a man. Well, Marek Hamsík is a rare gem because has been man enough to stay every season.