Koulibaly sale is Osimhen's cue to leave Napoli

Koulibaly sale is Osimhen's cue to leave Napoli

Solace Chukwu 14:40 - 16.07.2022

Despite Osimhen's goals, Napoli were unable to sustain a title push last season, and the squad churn this summer proves they lack the ambition to go one better this term

The Azzurri were unable to sustain their title push last season despite the Nigeria international's goals, and the squad churn this summer proves they lack the ambition to go one better this term

If you are reading this, Kalidou Koulibaly’s transfer to Chelsea has been completed.

In truth, a move of this magnitude has been a long time coming for the Senegal defender, who has been one of the finest exponents of the defensive arts in Europe for at least half a decade. That he has only gotten a transfer away from Napoli at the age of 31 is no slight whatsoever on his overall ability – if anything, it is a marker of just how difficult it is to deal with Aurelio De Laurentiis in the transfer market.

You can be excited about this deal if you are a Chelsea fan. If you're a Napoli fan, however, this development ought to prompt some sober reflection. Koulibaly will be a huge miss in Naples, but it's more than just the mere fact of his departure; he follows Lorenzo Insigne, David Ospina and Dries Mertens out the door. That is not just the majority of the team's spine gone, but also its beating heart.

Players like Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens have been the beating heart of Napoli for years

The immediate question is what that portends for the club's prospects in the new season. Be under no illusions: there will be no pretentious about a potential title charge this time.

Napoli started well and looked set to make a real fist of the Scudetto race, but ultimately fell short, finishing a distant third behind the two Milan clubs. That was with the benefit of the four who are now, for all intents and purposes, out of the picture. Without them, it is even less likely that Luciano Spalletti's side can realistically challenge in 2022/23, especially if their transfer business is anything to go by.

It is for this reason that Victor Osimhen has to, as a matter of urgency, seek a path away from Napoli.

So far, Napoli's transfer activity has consisted of making Andre Zambo-Anguissa's loan move permanent and signing the pair of Mathias Olivera and Kvicha Kvaratshkelia, from Getafe and Dinamo Batumi respectively, as replacements for the ageing Mario Rui and departed Insigne. Reports have also linked them to Leo Ostigard and Abdou Diallo, both defensive reinforcements, both ostensibly with a view to replacing Koulibaly.

However, these are hardly signings that move the needle (no offence to the players in question), and it would be hard to sell the upcoming season as anything other than the slog it is shaping up to be.

A season of treading water is unlikely to do much for Osimhen’s stock, even if at times he seems capable of dragging Napoli, kicking and screaming, to the mouth of the stream. He scored 14 goals and assisted another five in the league for the club, but more telling of his effect and contribution to the team was the fact that, of the 14 times Spalletti’s side dropped points in 2021/22, the 23-year-old was not in the starting lineup for six. Invariably, their form was directly proportional to his availability.

Victor Osimhen's absences have tended to coincide with poor runs of form for Napoli (IMAGO/Franco Romano/sportphoto24)

With so many influential dressing room characters departing, Napoli will be even more beholden to their star striker this time around. This is by no means a terrible thing – after all, a lot was made of the self-serving tendencies of Insigne, as well as the fact that the team did not quite commit to Osimhen’s strengths. That will no longer be a problem.

Still though, there is a line, as well as a downside: now, not only will the pressure to perform be greater than ever, but the side’s (inevitable) failure (relative to the previous campaigns) will be his to bear and own.

With that in mind, what are the odds that he has a similar level of output with key supply lines (Insigne and Rui provided assists for six of his 14-goal league tally) unavailable, especially as he would need to adapt to a completely revamped left side of the attack? Is all that upheaval really conducive to Osimhen’s continued growth; does this cadre of unaccomplished players afford him the optimal environment in which to continue to produce?

Granted, he is hardly the type to run from a challenge, as his rather confrontational online mien has demonstrated. However, sometimes, discretion is the better part of valour, and it is worth understanding the times. Osimhen simply cannot afford to wait for the squad to get good enough to support his ambitions and ability.

For a striker who wears his heart on his sleeve and gives nothing less than 100 percent at all times, these are his best years. Whatever about strikers peaking in their late-20s; anyone who has seen the manner in which Osimhen throws himself into challenges must understand there is a significant element of physical risk. It is telling that he has had a major injury in each of his two seasons so far in Naples.

The idea of the entire team being built around him is romantic and all, but what does it mean in concrete terms, and to what end? To have a title-challenging side built around you is a boost; to have a mediocre one built around you is a millstone. To waste his prime midwifing a transition would be a personal disservice.