Name: Lorenzo Insigne
Date of Birth: 4 June 1991
Position: Attacking midfielder/Second striker
Making his Name:
Born in the town of Frattamaggiore, 15 miles outside of Naples, Insigne began his footballing career with the youth ranks of local side Olimpia Sant’Arpino. A tough upbringing (Eurosport), in which he endured economic hardships at home and struggled to be accepted as a footballer due to his height (even now he is just 5’4″ tall), added a steely determination to his obvious talents and it wasn’t long before he was attracting the attentions of some of Italy’s biggest sides.
While both Inter Milan and Torino are said to have passed on the youngster due to his small physical stature, it was local giants Napoli who eventually took the plunge in 2005 thanks to the scouting work of youth coach Giuseppe Santoro. It would later emerge in 2012 that the deal to take Insigne to the Partenopei at the age of 15 cost the Serie A club just €1500, a fee that already looks to have been some of the best money the club will ever spend.
Four years later, at the beginning of the 2009-10 season, and Insigne was ready to complete his passage to first-team level, having impressed for the club’s Primavera side. Appearances in pre-season were followed by a first-team debut as a late substitute in a Serie A clash against Livorno in January 2010. However, it would prove to be his only appearance for the club for the next two-and-a-half years, as he soon departed on loan to third tier side Cavese. He would, though, return later the same season to play a starring role for Napoli in the famous Viareggio youth tournament.
It was on loan, though, that Insigne would begin his passage to the top. His spell at Cavese may have been brief and uneventful, but it was just the first of three times he would leave the club to continue his development. It would be the next two moves, both under respected manager Zdenek Zeman, where Insigne would begin to show his true potential. It was Cavese, though, that would indirectly bring about his first opportunity to shine, with sporting director Peppino Pavone moving from the club to Foggia in the summer of 2010 to reunite with Zeman. On arrival, he would immediately seek to bring in Insigne on a co-ownership deal from Napoli.
With 19 goals in 33 appearances in the Lega Pro in 2010-11, 19-year-old Insigne quickly made his first sizeable impression on both senior football and manager Zeman. In fact, so deep was his impression on Zeman that, upon being appointed head coach of Serie B side Pescara the following summer, Insigne quickly followed on loan. Over the course of the season, Pescara were the image of a typical Zeman side—both scoring and conceding aplenty—but thanks to the talents of Insigne, Ciro Immobile and Marco Verratti in particular, they emerged as league winners.
Napoli had seen enough, and chose to call Insigne back to the first-team setup for the 2012-13 season. With 18 goals and 14 assists to his name in his one solitary campaign at Serie B, it was now time to see how he would cope in the top flight. However, despite the departure of Argentine Ezequiel Lavezzi and some good performances, the 2012-13 season would be somewhat of a frustration to the young star.
Five goals and seven assists in his debut campaign would appear a more than decent return from a first season in the top flight, but Insigne would end up starting just 16 of his 37 league appearances. In May, his agent Fabio Andreotti would attribute the problems to coach Walter Mazzarri’s tactics, saying: “Lorenzo is lucky to have been trained by Mazzarri, but he can’t give his best in these tactics because he has to use up all his energy tracking back.” With Mazzarri now departed, he will now hope for increased opportunity in 2012-13, with his returns in both domestic and European action suggesting that he is more than deserving of that opportunity.
In June 2013, Insigne was part of the Italy Under-21 squad selected to take part in the European Championship in Israel.
Style of Play:
At just 5’4″ tall, it is fairly clear that Insigne is not going to be playing as a target man anytime soon. Instead, he has spent much of the past season at Napoli playing off the shoulder of centre-forward Edinson Cavani. With his explosive acceleration, intelligent movement and impressive finishing, it is a position in which he excels.
Insigne, though, offers his manager options. Heavily right-footed, he has previously been used by both club and country as an inverted winger on the left flank, with his close control and speed allowing him to beat opposition defenders on either side. While his crossing off his left foot could still be improved, it is often by heading this side that he is able to beat his man with greater ease, with defenders preoccupied by not allowing him onto his right to shoot.
They are correct, though, to worry about his right-foot. All Insigne’s five Serie A goals in the 2012-13 season came off his stronger foot, while the majority of his seven assists and 42 key passes also came off this flank. He also, besides being a general threat from open play, has proven a more than reasonable striker of set piece situations over the past couple of years, both directly at goal or in search of the head of a team-mate.
Defensively, he could perhaps still improve in his concentration and tracking of runs when playing from the flanks, but that is not his main tactical role. Nor, as his agent’s comments show, is it something he enjoys. Insigne, instead, is better used remaining upfield to exploit space on the counter attack with his impressive speed—both with and without the ball. It will now be particularly interesting to see exactly how he will be used by his new head coach at Napoli in 2013-14, especially if the club’s star centre-forward Edinson Cavani should depart as expected.
What Others Say:
“He is doing very well and is absorbing the pressure. He is a serious and mature lad who has understood that he must play for the team and not care about what anyone says. Some didn’t realise that there is a big difference from Serie B, which is why I say Insigne is doing much better than expected.” - Napoli manager Walter Mazzarri, December 2012.
“He is a modern attacking player, actually the prototype of a modern attacking player. His actions are always in function with the team, they are never an end in themselves: he is generous on a tactical level. All this is thanks to the coaches he’s had, like Zeman, who has taught him the timing of the actions.” - Italy head coach Cesare Prandelli, August 2012.
The first step for the young forward will be to make himself an automatic selection in the Napoli first-team, and, with the arrival of Spaniard Rafael Benitez as the club’s new head coach, that opportunity should present itself next season. Natural footballing talent is not going to be an issue in his career and he has been praised for his professionalism, but must show that he can make a weekly impact on football’s biggest stages. Thus far in his career, he has passed every challenge thrown his way, and next up will be the task of proving himself at Champions League level in 2013-14.
With another good season under his belt, further opportunities will open up at international level and, with the World Cup now fast approaching, there is still a possibility that he could make a late charge for a place in Cesare Prandelli’s squad for Brazil 2014. Along with the likes of Mario Balotelli, Stephan El Shaarawy and Verratti, Insigne represents what appears to be a bright new generation of potentially great Italian stars, and there will be pressure to add to his solitary international cap should he hit top form over the coming year.
For the moment, Napoli is an excellent place for his development to continue apace. Benitez has shown the ability to improve young attacking talent over the course of his career, and with Napoli firmly established among the regular Champions League challenging clubs in Serie A, Insigne will be forced to deal with the pressure of playing for a side with high expectations. Already 22 years old, it will be over the next 12-18 months that Insigne will show the footballing world just how good he can be.