Asked if Juventus would make a splash during the winter transfer window, director Beppe Marotta said January was a “repair market” which the best clubs use to fix gaps in their squads that have appeared in the first half of the season.
Following that logic, Napoli had very little need to add more attacking talent to a team that could already boast the likes of Gonzalo Higuaín, José Callejón and Dries Mertens. They may have seen Lorenzo Insigne ruled out with an anterior cruciate ligament injury, but Rafael Benitez knew he could rely on contributions from Marek Hamšík and Duván Zapata as the Partenopei pursued their objectives.
Therefore, it was something of a surprise to see Manolo Gabbiadini arrive just after the turn of the year, with Napoli paying €13 million to sign the 23-year-old star. Previously co-owned by Juventus and Sampdoria, the Bianconeri admitted they could find no space for the player in Turin given that they also have a stake in the futures of Domenico Berardi and Simone Zaza. With Kingsley Coman also tipped to become an important player in the future, it was simply a business decision from the Serie A giants, but it would be a huge loss to Sampdoria.
Before Christmas, Siniša Mihajlović’s side had been in contention for a Champions League berth, occupying third place for a time and Gabbiadini had been the main catalyst for that push. Weighing in with seven goals and two assists in just thirteen appearances, his displays had brought attention from Tottenham Hotspur. The Premier League club would ultimately lose out to Napoli, the former Atalanta youth team star finally landing a move to one of Italy’s top clubs after a number of years bouncing around away from the limelight.
The Bergamo-based club have always been a hotbed for talent, developing names such as Gaetano Scirea, Roberto Donadoni and Pippo Inzaghi who would all go on to thrive on the international stage. After spells with Cittadella and Bologna, Gabbiadini would eventually land at Sampdoria, playing a crucial role in their survival last season before the arrival of Mihajlović transformed both club and player beyond recognition.
Like his coach, Gabbiadini possesses a deadly left foot, and it seems the Serbian spent time teaching his young apprentice a few of the tricks that made him such a weapon on set-pieces. His accuracy improved dramatically at both corners and free kicks, able to deliver them with both power and precision just as Mihajlović himself once did. He is equally adept playing on both flanks, providing quality crosses from the left but preferring to be deployed in his favoured role on the right where he can attack the heart of opposing defences.
“The most important thing is to do well for the team and win games,” he told La Gazzetta dello Sport recently. “If I manage to score more goals then that's good, but if not, then no problem.” Despite not yet earning a guaranteed place in the starting XI at Napoli, he has continued to net with stunning regularity, finding the net eight times since joining the club. Statistics from Squawka.com in the graphic highlight just how much he has improved, finding the target with no less than 68% of his shots, a figure that is markedly better than his current team-mates.
He scored against Lazio, as the Partenopei were narrowly eliminated from the Coppa Italia, but has arguably saved his best performances for the Europa League. In what has been his first taste of continental football, Gabbiadini has scored two goals and created another in just 198 minutes of action, helping his new side advance to a European semi-final for the first time since their Diego Maradona-inspired UEFA Cup triumph back in 1989.
Gabbiadini has also netted twice in his last two Serie A outings as Napoli recorded emphatic wins over Cagliari and his former club Sampdoria, moving to within two points of third place AS Roma. Both competitions present the club with a chance to earn a place in next year’s Champions League, although it may well be a very different team than the one currently on display.
Talk of departures for both Benitez and Higuain continues to grow, with reports last weekend suggesting that Mihajlović could be the man to replace the Spaniard should the coach indeed move on.
A reunion with Gabbiadini could do wonders for both, and Napoli would only reap the benefits of their excellent relationship.
Read more from Serie A expert Adam Digby