Deemed surplus to requirements by Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde, winger Gerard Deulofeu is eyeing a return to Italy, and Napoli would be a proper fit.
Immediately as the January transfer window opened for business across Europe this month, it was clear La Liga leaders Barcelona would be one of the more intriguing teams to monitor closely as they were expected to be active on both the buying and selling end of the market.
Besides the fact the Spanish giants were primed to land star Philippe Coutinho in a mega move from Liverpool that had been in the works since last summer, everyone assumed sporting director Jordi Mestre and the Blaugrana front office would work diligently to trim the fat from the squad in order to prepare for additional signings both this month and in the summer. One of those casualties of a probable downsize was Gerard Deulofeu.
The 23-year old Spaniard grew up in the La Masia system and like many graduates, dreamt of one day lacing up the boots for the first team in hopes of authoring a success story. However, Deulofeu’s bounced around from club to club over the last several years, making a stop in Merseyside at Everton, drinking a cup of coffee in Seville and recently a short – but impressive – loan spell in Milano.
In six months on loan at AC Milan, Deulofeu provided the spark former manager Vincenzo Montella so desperately craved in order to secure a Europa League berth, featuring 18 times across all competitions, scoring four goals and adding three assists. This performance prompted Barcelona to activate their buy-back clause and hand the academy product a chance to show his worth – and perhaps work with new signing Ousmane Dembele to replace the production lost with the sale of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain.
However, since returning to Catalonia, Deulofeu’s failed to convince Valverde, appearing in under 500 minutes in domestic play.
The Spanish attacker has just a single goal to his name, and with Coutinho entering the fray along with Dembele back from injury, there are no minutes to go around, leading many to believe a winter departure is a foregone conclusion.
Ahead of Barcelona’s match with Levante last weekend, Valverde addressed the media to explain why Deulofeu had been ousted from the roster, saying (h/t Sport):
“If he asks to leave, we will evaluate things, but that’s not happened yet. Deulofeu’s situation isn’t down to him, he’s not done anything wrong. It’s just he has a certain profile, and at the moment, I’m looking for players with a different profile.”
Entering the month, several Italian clubs had been linked with a move for Deulofeu this month; including Milan, Inter, Roma and Napoli. Yet, with the two Milanese clubs perhaps strapped for cash and looking for only a loan move, the Partenopei have stepped up and shown intent to purchase the former UEFA European Under-21 champion outright in an effort to bolster their squad for a title run.
Multiple reports from Italy insist Bologna’s Simone Verdi remains Napoli’s top priority, and await the player’s decision before finalizing the deal for Deulofeu. However, let’s assume for just a moment it’s the Barcelona youngster arrives in Naples instead of the Italian as it’s understood it will be one or the other. What should be made of this move, and how will Deulofeu fit into Maurizio Sarri’s scheme?
First and foremost, I’ve had my doubts over the years, like many others, about Deulofeu’s makeup as a player, even after his positive experience in Lombardy last season. However, at 23, there is plenty to like in the Spaniard’s arsenal; fleet of foot, equipped with the dribbling ability to lose his marker, and most importantly the confidence to channel it all by running at defenders. These qualities would fit seamlessly into Sarri’s system rooted in quick passing and movement, while ensuring the intensity of the brand doesn’t skip a beat.
Tactically, Sarri’s attacking three is set in stone with Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens and Jose Callejon spearheading the 4-3-3. Yet, the speedy wingman’s ability to slot in on either wing is undoubtedly a welcoming asset considering Sarri’s had his share of issues with rotating, and Napoli still have the Europa League on the menu.
Despite his skillset translating much better on the left for him to cut in and have a go at goal, or create space and time for the overlapping fullback to plunge forward, few have ever complained about a player providing too much flexibility – and you won’t hear it from anyone in Napoli camp either.
Perhaps overlooked in all this is the fact Deulofeu joins a side with several experienced countrymen who have been long-serving members of Sarri’s reign at the club. Training and the usual day-to-day grind with Suso last season helped him settle in almost immediately, and we saw that comfort translate into difference-making performances over a half season in a meaningful chase towards Europe.
By having Jose Reina, Raúl Albiol and Callejon to latch onto, the pressures of performing in a title race should be easier to manage, thus allowing for ‘Geri’ to pick up right where he left off last year.
As reported by Gianluca Di Marzio last night, Napoli sporting director Cristiano Giuntoli met with Deulofeu’s agent Gines Carvajal to define the terms of a possible deal. Regarding wages, the two sides are making strides on reaching an agreement, but still have work to do in lowering Barcelona’s demands on the fee – likely to be between €15-16 million, though their have been conflicting reports claiming the asking price is a bit higher.
Personally, I believe Deulofeu’s value to be in that €13-14 million range, so odds are Napoli can land him for lower than what Barcelona are asking considering the Spanish giants wouldn’t want a possible deal to collapse by nickel and diming.
Multiple reports have confirmed an offer for Verdi has already been accepted, and now the player’s decision whether to jump ship from the Rossoblu, now or in the summer as initially planned, is all that remains.
While the 25-year old Azzurri forward is perhaps the more appealing option in the eyes of many, including myself, Deulofeu is quite the consolation prize.
Whether or not Deulofeu does make a trip to southern Italy remains to be seen. In any case, this is the year to chase the title that has long escaped their clutches. If Verdi cannot be convinced to move, Deulofeu would fit right in for what hopes to be a silverware-laden season in Naples.