By Mirko Corli
It’s likely you have heard very little of Lorenzo Insigne so far and nobody won’t blame you for that. The Napoli lad developed through a series of loans in the lower divisions before receiving wider attention last season whilst playing in the Serie B with Pescara, who became eventual champions. The attacker’s strong displays rewarded him a place in Napoli team this year and more recently, a call-up to the Italian national team.
And now, everyone’s talking about him.
The talent was always there. Since the very beginning the boy from Frattamaggiore, a city located between Napoli and Caserta, played under great attention from several Serie A scouts. His displays caught the eye of Inter Milan and offerred him a trial, but refused to sign a very young Insigne as his short frame raised concerns. However, this was never a problem for Napoli, who secured the 15 year old for a fee under €2,000.
His development continued and didn’t pass by unnoticed. Insigne was included in the ‘Azzurri’ youth team in 2009, who had scored 15 goals in the U21 Championship and 2 goals in the Viareggio Cup. That brought him to a loan to Foggia, a club competing in the Lega Pro 1, the third divsion. Whilst on loan he probably had the best encounter he could have wished for, the talented teenager met and played under Zdenek Zeman, the manager who launched Alessandro Nesta at Lazio back in the day. The Czech gave him trust and space, ‘Little Lorenzo’ returned him 19 goals in 33 games.
When Insigne started training at Foggia, Zeman told him, “Hey, go and fight for the ball with your head in that play”. Insigne looked at him and said: “Gaf, have you seen me?”, Zeman replied:
“Doesn’t matter if your opponent is a foot taller than you, you have to try to get the ball, to improve”.
The following season, Napoli agreed to send him on loan and decided to leave him under Zeman’s sight again, which was a wise decision. When the gaffer signed for Serie B side Pescara, Insigne also moved to the Adriatic seaside. That was maybe the best choice for all; Pescara won the championship, thus gaining promotion to the Serie A after waiting 19 years, Insigne played outstandingly well hitting the net 18 times and serving 14 assists, and Zeman replaced Luis Enrique as the manager at Roma.
All this convinced Napoli to bring him home and place trust on his ability and potential. After all, space was available following Lavezzi’s departure to the French capital. In no time he became part of Napoli’s lethal attacking front and Insigne is considered on the same level as Pandev and the recently signed Vargas.
What seemed to be Insigne’s main weakness, his height, surprisingly became his strength. The youngster is very quick and wonderfully equipped from a technical point of view. Although he’s right-footed, Zeman normally placed him on the left side of Pescara’s attacking trio, allowing him to cut sharply into the centre; a role similarly played by David Villa. That gave him the possibility to score plenty of goals and assists through play-and-pass with the others on the front line. He shot with a precise precise kick, achieved by playing on the opposite side of his dominant foot, a master key of Zeman’s way of football. However, that wasn’t always the case as one of his best individual goals was scored on the right side against Grosseto.
There’s no doubt that he learned a lot under the Czech tutor, the classic moves a quick attacker must execute in modern football, and Mazzarri himself highlighted that too: “You can clearly see that Insigne comes from the Zeman-academy; he’s got the right timing and moves across the pitch.” The current Napoli coach said in an interview that Insigne is adapting very quickly to Serie A football because of the complete playbook he inherited in the last two seasons. To give you an idea of what Mazzarri thinks of the lad, he’s currently ahead of the heavily paid Edu Vargas, who cost the club £11.5m.
Insigne has adapted rapidly into the team, both on and off the field, his team mates admire him, praising his mentality and talent. Many of them, Maggio for example, pointed out how much he will add to Napoli compared to Lavezzi.
“I was surprised with his attitude: he’s young but very dedicated to his job. He trains hard and listens very carefully to Mazzarri. He obviously is less experienced than Lavezzi, but, from a technical point of view, they’re very similar. More, Insigne is more precise in front of the goal line: Lavezzi shows up quite often in the danger zone but many times he just makes the wrong choice.
One of the big issues with ‘El Pocho’, felt by the fans but also by teammates, was his lack of goals. Great displays, great assists, but only few goals. Everyone in Napoli is convinced Insigne will make the city forget Lavezzi very soon and that this will happen through goals, something people usually expect only from Cavani and Hamsik.
The only barrier Insigne may encounter is playing important games, especially if we consider the Coppa Italia and Europa League ties, where the level is high and played with a demand which Insigne is unknown to. This is a typical Zeman-players attitude: playing too many first intention balls and never keeping them for a second. This quite always produces a plus in the attacking plays, but in games that are very tough to manage such as cup fixtures, the habit of keeping the ball a little may be helpful.
The future is looking prosperous for Insigne, he was in the starting line for the two Napoli games so far in Serie A, helping in the 2-1 win against Fiorentina with his assist for Hamsik’s goal. Moreover, he just received the call from Cesare Prandelli to be in the National Team squad for the two qualifying games against Bulgaria and Malta. He did not play in Sofia but he’s expected to show up in the starting XIs tonight. Not bad for a lad a few inches taller than 5ft.
This piece was written by Mirko Corli, one of AFR’s longest serving writers who focuses on the Serie A. Comments below please.
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