Quiet on Their Feet: Napoli and Palermo Are Overlooked Serie A Contenders
Reigning champion Inter Milan has received an ample quantity of attention and applause following an impressive transfer season, as they look to compete for a legitimate shot at not only retaining the Scudetto but capturing the Champions League title, too.
The nonchalance on display across town, conversely, has created much uproar, as AC Milan has been very passive in the market this year following the exodus of former stalwarts Paolo Maldini, Kaka and manager Carlo Ancelotti.
AS Roma has managed to stagnate to an even higher degree, losing more talent than gained in a clear demonstration of managerial disorder. They’ve fallen down in the hierarchy of Italian football, while Fiorentina and Juventus look sharp enough to vie for a top-three finish.
Yet flying so quietly and unassumingly around the radar are two sides that possess a more-than-capable chance at securing their position among Serie A’s contenders.
Those are the clubs that reside in Palermo and Napoli.
Although neither club has seized the headline in what has become an eventful off-season, neither has been static. In fact, both have been as active in underpinning their respective rosters as any other team living on the upper echelon, albeit the players signed were of a lower class in celebrity.
And the rebuilding project for Palermo has been just as productive as Napoli leading up to this moment.
For the Sicilian outfit, it began with bleak conditions upon the closure of last season’s transfer window.
Taking into account that a total of four managers replaced each other throughout the past two years, stability wasn’t a strong point.
The concession of developed players in forward Amauri, defender Andrea Barzagli and Cristian Zaccardo upon the beginning of the 2008-2009 season was an evident low-blow, with each player looking to capitalize on their prospects elsewhere.
Heading into the 2009-2010 campaign, the bulb is much more brilliant.
Working on top of fundamental signings in midfielder Fabio Liverani and the snarly Antonio Nocerino in last year’s off-season, president Maurizio Zamparini has scoured Europe and beyond for unheralded talent hiding in the corners.
To assure himself that his side is enhanced, Zamparini uncovered burgeoning midfielder Nicolas Bertolo, Javier Pastore, and Dorin Goian. These names are hardly tantalizing, although each possess a wealth of potential.
Pastore, who was hounded by Manchester United and AC Milan, has a game equipped to befit that which is played in Italy, having been dubbed the Argentine Kaka for his intelligence and deadly precision.
His performance at 20 years of age has inspired aficionados of the Primera Division de Argentina to vest belief in Pastore to one day deliver on the international level as well, not only as a fixture but as a principal component.
“I like to be right in the thick of the action,” Pastore told Tuttomercatoweb, stating his desire to embrace a trequartista role. “The position that Zenga put me in against St. Veit [during training session] is definitely my favourite. The coach has instructed me to keep things simple, and I won’t let him down.”
To the delight of Palermo fans, Pastore feels he will be productive with fellow countryman Bertolo.
Considering Palermo wields acute goal scorers Fabrizio Miccoli and Edinson Cavani—both of whom found the net 14 times each last season—and a supremely underrated ball supplier in Fabio Simplicio, there’s reason to suspect that Pastore’s influence will only augment the offensive flank.
“I am getting on with everyone really well,” Pastore continued. “I must say Miccoli and Cavani are incredibly great players, but I am also really looking forward to forming a partnership with Bertolo in the middle of the park.”
Along with the arrival of new coach Walter Zenga, a former goalkeeper for Inter and the Italian national side, projection—and in the case of their silent activity, interjection—into top consideration for the championship is warranted. To improve on the eighth position earned last year should be expected.
If nothing is attained this year, then the next seems equally viable, though the impetus remains blatant.
"It’s about time we stopped accepting our roles as sparring partners for the big three," said an eager Zamparini in an open media announcement.
A more tentative Cavani added: “Palermo can aim high this season and we will try and demonstrate that this team is one to be reckoned with in the Italian championship.”
Matching that discretion would be Roberto Donadoni, the coach of a Napoli team that could contain as much promise as the days in which Maradona suited up for the Partenopei in the late 1980s.
"The squad has been reinforced, of course,” said the former coach of the Azzurri.
“The lads were interesting [in pre-season], but apart from Fabio Quagliarella, [the new signings] do not have much experience. They will certainly raise the level of quality in the team. I repeat, however, that I will be cautious."
However, the welcoming of Quagliarella and international Morgan De Sanctis in goal adds validity to the opinion that Napoli could have one of the most balanced rosters in Serie A. The legion of starlets exploding into stars begins with Fabiano Santacroce at the centre-back position to Luca Cigarini and Marek Hamsik in midfield to Ezequiel Lavezzi up front.
It may just be a matter of development before the collective consciousness of Italian football recognizes the aptitude of this version of Napoli, that it may simply be a case of growing into their uniform.
And if Donadoni won’t concede that, he’ll at least tip his forwards as likely leaders.
“I knew before, but I can see with my own eyes now that Quagliarella will be an important player at this club for a very long time,” he said. “He and Lavezzi? Their partnership will only improve further with time. We are looking forward to seeing what they can do in the Serie A this season.”
So in the fury of these Diego, Samuel Eto’o and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar exchanges, there lie some opportunities underneath the teams inextricably linked to the sensational headlines.
Perhaps enough to even cause an upset or two.
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