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Tuesday October 11 2011
Napoli's new hope

A new No 10 is being lauded in Napoli and he's not yet even playing his football for the Stadio San Paolo outfit. Antonio Labbate introduces Lorenzo Insigne.

With a wide smile on his face, Ciro Ferrara enthusiastically offered a high five and celebratory hug to the Azzurri goalscorer. Just seconds earlier, the talented No 10 had rippled the back of the net with a sublime and delicate left-footed lob, from over 30 yards out, which personified a beauty that the game of football sometimes offers.

The diminutive forward in question could easily have been from an era of Napoli's successful past, in the unmistakable shape of Diego Armando Maradona, but it was potentially the Stadio San Paolo's future which we saw a glimpse of last Thursday in the form of Lorenzo Insigne.

It was against Liechtenstein on his Italian Under-21 debut where Insigne announced himself to a wider footballing public. With two goals and three assists, it was a performance which explained why the Neapolitan was and is, now even more so, being likened to Maradona, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Sebastian Giovinco.

The comparisons are understandable given the footballing climate that the 1.65m starlet is trying to make a name for himself in, but they are also unfair to a 20-year-old whose Serie A career to date consists of an injury time substitute appearance against Livorno in January 2010. Since then, the Napoli youth team product has been busy demonstrating his potential at smaller clubs who could offer him the playing time that the Partenopei couldn't.

While a spell at Cavese brought little in terms of goals, it didn't disappoint sporting director Peppino Pavone who, after moving to Foggia in the summer of 2010, signed him for Zdenek Zeman's side. Lorenzo responded with 19 goals in 33 Lega Pro games and made enough of an impact to make sure that Zeman, following his 2011 switch to Pescara, requested that the boy join him at the Stadio Adriatico.

"Zeman continues to give me a lot of tactical advice," the youngster says. "He is a Coach who does a lot of work with his forwards. If you do what he wants then, as a striker, you'll find yourself in front of goal with consistency and ease. Working with him is a launch pad for any attacker, an opportunity that you shouldn't let slip through your fingers."

Insigne, whose brother Roberto is also progressing well in the Napoli youth programme, can play as a wide attacker or in a more central role as he's already ably demonstrated this term. And Zeman has been so pleased with the youngster's progression that he's even insisted that Serie B is a level beneath his capabilities.

"I don't see why he wouldn't be ready for Napoli right now," the 4-3-3 tactician argued even before Naples legend Ferrara gave him his first Azzurrini cap. "I see worse players than him in their present squad. I'll keep a tight grip of him for the time being though, also because I'm sure that he won't waste the future chances that he'll be given in his career."

Inevitably, his agent has taken advantage of his moment in the spotlight to claim that the big clubs in Italy, and beyond, have already made enquiries, but Napoli have Insigne tied to a contract that doesn't expire until 2016. They also seem to know what kind of player they have in their possession.

"We had offers for him in the summer, but we decided to hand him over to a maestro," stated Napoli sporting director Riccardo Bigon. "Zeman is the right Coach to allow a player like Insigne to explode. The tactician's needs married ours and that's why the only option we considered was to hand him on loan to Pescara. The boy has got talent and we believe in him."

As it stands, Napoli are set to meet up with Insigne's representatives in January to discuss the possibility of a return to the San Paolo at the end of the season. A few more performances and goals like last week and it seems just a matter of time before the boy is offered the Azzurri shirt of his beloved hometown club.

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