Straight from the dark heart of Italy
The first day of pre-season training is always the same.
Plenty of the handshakes and introductions along with the requisite slaps on the back and hugs for the old guard.
It is a ritual that will be played out up and down the country over the next few weeks as the Serie A clubs return for a month of gruelling training.
Down in Naples it might be a good idea if everyone turns up that bit earlier as Napoli have been the busiest club in the transfer market so far.
As it stands, there are already six new faces costing something in the region of 50million Euro, but further new recruits are in the pipeline if Roberto Donadoni can persuade his hard-working sporting director Pierpaolo Marino to step up the chase for Juventus left-back Paolo De Ceglie.
Owner Aurelio De Laurentis is bank-rolling the new-look Napoli and it is certainly something that is needed if the club are going to fulfil their potential as a major player this coming season.
De Laurentis has seen how a more modestly-supported, but just as passion outfit, such as Genoa were able to make a dent in the fortress occupied by the usual big hitters – and, rightly, he believes Napoli can also be pushing for a top five finish.
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Donadoni arrived in March and had to make do with what was available before beginning the revamp in earnest once the campaign came to a close.
The first major coup was tempting Fabio Quagliarella back home despite Inter’s interest in the Italy international. The 18.7m paid could be the best piece of business of the close-season for an off-the-cuff striker who will revel in the atmosphere of the San Paolo.
Italy U21 midfielder Luca Cigarini will be knocking on the door of Marcello Lippi’s full squad very soon, and at 12m is an absolute snip.
However, what is equally impressive about Napoli’s dealings is the fact that they haven’t thrown their money around needlessly.
Morgan De Sanctis, for example, is third-choice Italy goalkeeper, but it only took 1.6m to prise the 32-year-old away from Galatasaray.
Juan Camilo Zuniga had an impressive first season in Italy at Siena and, at only 23, the right-back is well worth the 8.5m outlay, while at 7m the experienced Hugo Campagnaro is the no-nonsense defender sorely missing from last season’s line-up.
So far so good, and if De Ceglie - who is another Italy U21 international - arrives then the defence will have a fine mix of youth and experience to stand them in good stead for several seasons to come.
De Ceglie: The missing piece in Napoli's puzzle
On top of that, it will also have a homespun look compared to the top-heavy, temperamental South American feel last year – nine to be exact and none of them shy when coming to voicing their opinions.
When events started going south after the winter break, it was the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi, German Denis, Mariano Bogliacino, Marcelo Zalayeta and Walter Gargano who were meant to turn things around.
Instead, they turned on coach Edy Reja and split the dressing room. That power has now been diluted, leaving Donadoni with plenty of alternatives and, on paper, Napoli certainly look like contenders.
However, most importantly of all, they look different. And after two so-so seasons now is the time for Napoli to prove they are more than just Diego Maradona’s old team.
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I think De Ceglie should move to Napoli or any other ambitious club because sadly I don't think he will get much of a chance at Juventus. If a manager can convert him into a left winger/midfielder it would be beneficial for the Italian national team as Italy will have the option then to play with natural wingers.
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