A century (plus one) goals in just under ten seasons with his club, Napoli. It is a stat any striker worth his salt would scoff at. But for a midfielder, it is indeed a respectable achievement. Now imagine that same midfielder were 29 years old, had played a vital role in helping his country qualify for their first ever World Cup and European championship. And despite the interest from numerous other clubs around Europe following his performance in France this past summer, he opted to sign a new four-year deal tying him with the club until 2020.
An unconditional loyalty…no matter what
Mind you, Marek Hamsik would have made significantly more money elsewhere. And certainly, given his fine showings with Slovakia at this summer’s EURO tournament, most would not have blamed him if he decided to depart Napoli. Well, that is, most people except Partenopei supporters. After all, many notable names have come and gone: Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi, and the most recent, Gonzalo Higuain. Hamsik, however, has stayed put at the Stadio San Paolo.
Last season saw Napoli crowned “winter champions” for the first time since 1990. Although an unofficial title, Partenopei followers hoped for it to be a positive omen. For the past 12 seasons, the top-ranked team at the midway point had gone on to win the Scudetto. So, was their 26-year long wait finally going to end?
Well, unfortunately, 13 truly is an unlucky number. A combination of Juventus’s resurgence and Napoli’s stumbles saw them finish in second, nine points behind La Vecchia Signora. That alone could cause any footballer to consider his options – especially if he is approaching the wrong side of 30. Since arriving at the start of the 2007/2008 campaign, Hamsik has won a total of three trophies: two Coppa Italias and one Supercoppa Italiana. Three trophies in nearly ten seasons certainly is a bad output. After all, there are players with teams who have won even less, and over a longer period of time.
But when one considers the fact that other clubs have won three titles in one year – and some on a regular basis – during that time frame, coupled with, as noted before, his advancing age, Hamsik’s unconditional loyalty is even more impressive. No, it has not been entirely smooth sailing – there was some major conflict with Rafa Benitez – but the Slovak international, whose unique hairstyle has been copied by legions of Partenopei fans has played a vital role in every single one of those three titles, including scoring the game-winner in 2012 to give Napoli their first title in over two decades.
A century of goals…and a historic milestone beckons
Hamsik has reached many milestones during his career with Napoli, including the most appearances in European competition during the 2014/2015 term. But arguably his biggest so far took place on September 24th, 2016. The Partenopei defeated Chievo 2-0 to keep up pressure on Juventus in this season’s Scudetto race. And his first-half goal did not just seal a win against the Flying Donkeys, but meant that he has reached that all-important mark – a century of goals for his club.
Four days later, he netted the first in what turned out to be a very entertaining 4-2 win over Benfica, taking his total to 101. And here is where things get interesting. Hamsik needs just three more to catch his former colleague Cavani, who sits third in the all-time goal-scorers charts. Add another four, and he will have matched Attila Sallustro’s 108 from 1926 to 1937.
But the all important number is 115. Why? Well, that’s the number of goals scored by Napoli’s all-time top marksman. And that player is none other than Diego Maradona. Napoli’s captain has already surpassed Maradona’s Serie A haul – when he scored the first in a 3-0 win over Palermo on September 10th – but it does not compare to the ultimate achievement of being crowned Napoli’s goal-scoring king.
15 more goals, and Hamsik will have overtaken one of the biggest names to grace the sport and wear the Partenopei colors. It certainly does not equal to winning a Scudetto, but should he achieve this before the end of the season, it will be plenty of cause for celebration in itself. It will be a deserved achievement for a player who has been loyal to Napoli through the good and more difficult times. Indeed, it will be the ultimate reward for a player who is criminally underrated due to the lack of global attention his club gets.
A shock 1-0 reversal to Atalanta left Napoli reeling before the international hiatus. They will be counting on their skipper to inspire them as they engage in a tantalizing encounter with Roma, and if Hamsik is on form, the Partenopei are certainly looking good at 21/20 to bounce back against the Giallorossi.