Napoli benching the toughest challenge yet for Lozano

Hirving Lozano Napoli
Getty Images
While rumors circulate he may head to England to reunite with Carlo Ancelotti, some are urging the winger to push through and win Gattuso's confidence

Hirving Lozano is probably ready to hit the restart button on 2020. 

The 24-year-old winger moved to Napoli this summer in a big-money transfer after two successful seasons with PSV that saw him not only become the top Mexican player in the world but also a player prized by some of the world's biggest clubs. Yet, after Carlo Ancelotti's departure from the club, Lozano has found playing time hard to come by.

New boss Gennaro Gattuso favors Jose Calleon on the wing with Lorenzo Insigne on the other side. Ancelotti played Lozano as a forward often, but playing time isn't plentiful there, either with Arkadiusz Milik, Dries Mertens and Fernando Llorente all in Gattuso's employ.

Article continues below

Lozano has appeared in just four Serie A matches this year, all of them off the bench and one for less than a full minute. His cumulative minute total in league play this year sits at 49 minutes. He wasn't in the squad for Sunday's victory over Cagliari, reportedly after picking up an injury during the week. 

“I make my choices based on how I want the team to play and have to put everyone in a condition to express themselves well," Gattuso said last week . "In Mexico, I am persona non grata because of that, but what can I do? I guess I won’t go back to Mexico!”

The response in Mexico certainly has been one of frustration, as you'd expect when a player on the rise hits a ceiling for what seems like the first time in his career. While Lozano has fought through challenges before, most of them have been injury-related, hardly a surprise as one of the most fouled players in each of the leagues where he's played.

That's not to suggest Lozano has lived a life of luxury, but at 24 this is perhaps the biggest challenge of Lozano's career. He must try to win Gattuso's confidence, something that will obviously be harder to do now that he's also fighting through a knock.

Hirving Lozano Napoli 2019-20

Last week, former Mexico international Luis Garcia Postigo posted a video column explaining why, for him, Lozano is still the top Mexican player, even over in-form players like Wolves forward Raul Jimenez. For the Azteca commentator, who experienced his own time struggling for minutes in Europe with Atletico Madrid, Lozano's historical quality can't be hidden.

Whether or not a manager plays him, Garcia says Lozano has passed the test. There's a reason so many European clubs wanted to sign him from Pachuca and again from PSV. There's a reason Napoli paid €50 million ($54 million/£42 million) to acquire his services this summer.

Not winning Gattuso's approval, for Garcia, is "the best lesson Lozano could have," as it will teach him not to play only for managers who appreciate the art and beauty in football, as managers like Diego Alonso with Tuzos and Mark van Bommel at PSV did, but also how to play under a manager who believes you need to sweat and bleed for the shirt.

This is a measured take in a media landscape where hot takes are far more common, but it very clearly touched Lozano.

"Doing what you love sometimes implies putting forth an effort that few know, that those who enjoy a game couldn't even imagine. Today I found in your words almost the exact reflection of the cost of following my dream," Lozano tweeted in response to the video. "They surprised me. In them I found the answer to a lot of questions that have been turning over in my head. Your words put me over the top. They gave me strength. I'll have them with me whenever they might be needed.

"You don't know how much I wish for your predictions to become reality. I'll keep working with the desire to achieve them. I thank you for having dedicated your video to me. Today has been a good day after having read them, a calmer day and one with the joy of knowing that someone might understand my current situation. From the heart, thank you very much."

There have been suggestions that a reunion with Ancelotti will provide Lozano some salvation this summer, but a lot of things would have to go right for "Chucky" to end up in the Premier League. If Napoli shop him this season, there will undoubtedly be buyers, but it may require them to accept less than they spent this summer. That could be a tough pill to swallow.

In the interim, Lozano's only real choice is to heed Garcia's advice and take the words on as the comfort Lozano says he needed. He must continue to work, to make the most of the chances he can get and try to convince Gattuso he can fit into his brand of football just a seamlessly as he adapted to the style of previous managers.

The Mexico national team also can provide some relief, with Lozano still firmly in the best XI manager Tata Martino can put on the field and Martino rarely troubled by players experiencing swoons with their clubs. Everyone in Mexico would be happier, however, if Lozano can find some breathing room once again with Napoli and get back into a groove. They'll even welcome Gattuso back to the country.