Rafa Benitez's recent show of admiration for Marek Hamsik is likely to act as a major obstacle to Manchester United's hopes of signing the playmaker this winter.
The Napoli boss heralded the Slovakian international's return after a one-month injury layoff, and David Moyes' hopes of bringing the star to Old Trafford are likely to suffer as a result.
Speaking to Italy's RAI television (h/t ESPN's Ben Gladwell), Benitez hailed Hamsik as a "new signing," saying:
He's our first new signing. I started with Goran Pandev [against Atalanta] because I wanted to bring Marek on when they were a bit more tired.
I'm not going to comment on any other names because I prefer only to talk about the players we've got, but I'm expecting more than one new signing from my president -- at least two.
The former Liverpool chief will want to take baby steps in welcoming his asset back to the Serie A race, and although the Azzurri lie 10 points behind leaders Juventus, Napoli's chances of reducing that deficit are far better off with their maestro back in the fold.
Moyes and his technical staff have been on something of a European tour of late, scouting a wide assortment of continental targets in Italy, Spain and England. The Daily Star's Colin Harvey suggests that hunt has led them to Hamsik, who has been linked with the Premier League giants in the past.
As confirmed by The New York Times' Jerrad Peters, Moyes was in Italy to watch Hamsik first-hand this week, presumably:
Moyes at Napoli this evening, presumably to see Hamsik. Lawlor getting another look at Porto's Mangala - his second in four days.— Jerrad Peters (@jerradpeters) January 15, 2014
The 26-year-old is one of numerous creative assets currently attracting Moyes' gaze, with United suffering in quality midfield options.
Among those already at the Theatre of Dreams, Shinji Kagawa has the most reason to be demoralised by the news of United's transfer prospects.
Moyes doesn't appear to be among the Japanese international's admirers. The former Borussia Dortmund star has made just 13 starts across all competitions this term and is yet to score a goal, per Transfermarkt.co.uk.
Hamsik, on the other hand, has scored six goals in just nine Serie A starts, according to Transfermarkt.co.uk, and continues to thrive as the last piece of the Holy Trinity still left at the Stadio San Paolo.
The other two components of the once-lauded trio, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani, both find themselves at the Parc des Princes after opting for lucrative offers with Paris Saint-Germain.
WhoScored's statistics show exactly how Hamsik's attacking priorities have shifted in the 2013-14 campaign:
Marek Hamsik: After picking up the most assists (14) in Serie A last season, Hamsik has failed to produce one at all this season— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) January 16, 2014
Benitez is eager to ensure that his catalytic resource remains in Naples, but United's need for winter reinforcements and Napoli's failure to advance in the Champions League could pose as serious factors in any attempt to keep him.
Nevertheless, having only returned to action on Wednesday evening in the Coppa Italia, Hamsik is unlikely to be allowed to leave by Benitez anytime in the near future.