The Colombian forward has found playing time a rare commodity at Napoli, but that has not prevented him from being one of the most dangerous strikers in the league.
23-year-old Duván Zapata has been in the shadow of Argentine forward Gonzalo Higuain ever since arriving at the southern Italian club in 2013. Undaunted by a lack of minutes, Zapata has performed at the highest level at every possible opportunity, becoming not only a fantastic super sub but a fairly lethal striker in the process.
What you need to know:
Name: Duván Zapata
Date of Birth: 01.04.1991 (age 23)
Position: center forward
Current club: SSC Napoli
Height: 1.9 meters
Caps: U-20 (5, 1 goal)
Who is Zapata?
Beginning his professional career at Colombian side CD América de Cali, Duván Zapata broke into the club’s first team at the tender age of 18, making nearly 20 appearances in his first full professional season. Goals did not come easy at first, and he was frequently met with squandered chances and misfortune on the pitch. However his next season provided some improvement, and Zapata netted five times from just over a dozen starts. This progress in his development prompted Zapata to be taken on by Argentine giants Estudiantes, where he blossomed into an ace goalscorer. Although not quite settling into the first team right upon arrival, his exploits during the time he was given led Zapata to become an indispensable asset for a severely underachieving Estudiantes side in 2012/13. Italian powerhouse Napoli soon caught wind of the forward’s quality, and in the summer of 2013 brought him across the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean for a fee of around €7 million. Since his move to the partenopei he has been deployed as a “super sub” of sorts by manager Rafael Benitez, making only 11 league starts out of over 30 total Serie A appearances.
Zapata has yet to break into Colombia’s senior team, competing with the likes of Adrian Ramos, Carlos Bacca, and Ramadel Falcao for a spot in José Pékerman’s side. Nevertheless Zapata experienced the thrill of international competition as a member of Colombia’s U-20 side, which reached the quarter-finals of the 2011 U-20 World Cup.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Put quite simply, Zapata is a tank. A hulking forward with a cannon for a foot, he can easily barrel through a group of defenders at full speed whilst retaining control of the ball. Able to beat out just about anybody in the air, he is a key asset during corners and in the closing stages of the match, where his train-like physique makes short work of fatigued defenders and allows him to score laser-accurate headers. Perhaps this is why Zapata enjoys such success as a substitute, as his frame, speed, and technique often prove too much for the opposition’s tiring defenders to cope with. Furthermore, he is adept at exploiting holes in the back line of whatever team he is up against, using these spaces to open up an attacking play for either himself or a teammate. For all his bulk he does not sacrifice much grace for power, and is capable of tidy goals like this.
For all his positives, Zapata needs a creative midfield to support him and his runs. He may be able to lay off a pass to a waiting teammate in the final third of the pitch but requires support in order to get there in the first place. Luckily Napoli has no shortage of innovative players, but at a gritty team with a lack of anything remotely resembling a spark of imagination he would be lost and confused. Additionally, Zapata is still struggling with establishing himself as a consistent performer despite all his positive outings, and he would need to display dependability over a long period of time in order to get a chance at regular starts.
2015-16 and beyond
Should he remain at Napoli, next season looks like it is lining up to be more of the same for Zapata. Substitute appearances coupled with the occasional start as far as the eye can see. Fortunately, remaining with the partenopei is not his sole option, as there are multiple clubs interested in acquiring the services of the Colombian. Among the 23-year-old’s suitors are Tottenham, Torino, and Shakhtar; the latter had a winter bid for the forward’s services rejected. As an international, Zapata’s chances of breaking into the Colombia team are, at the moment, quite slim. Falcao are Carlos Bacca seem to be locked in for the #1 and #2 striker slots in José Pékerman’s side, and barring a huge upturn in form his chances of making an impact on the world stage will remain low.
Napoli’s South American tank remains one of the club’s finer assets, one that can, with slight further tweaking, become a truly fearsome force in Italy and the rest of Europe.