The Champions League. As far as club football goes, it's the cream of the crop. The best of the best. The pinnacle of the mountain.
Napoli will be in it for a second consecutive season, and a third in the last four years. Last year, a strong group stage campaign wasn't enough, as they finished in third place thanks to tiebreakers. This time, they'll be hoping to improve on that finish and make some noise in the knockout rounds. To do so, they'll not only need to improve the quality of their starting lineup, but maintain a careful balance of depth as well.
As far as league play goes, that's not a hard thing to do; Serie A has minimal regulations on roster construction and doesn't actually have a formal player registration system like you see in other countries. For UEFA competitions like the Champions league, however, there's a very strict and well-defined structure on roster construction, and it's one that's tripped up a number of teams over the years, including Italian clubs that hadn't previously structured their clubs in a manner similar to what UEFA wants to see.
One of the major stumbling blocks is that of the "home grown player". Basically, UEFA dictates that each club has at least eight players on their roster that were "formed" (fancy way of saying trained or developed) in the country the club is in. The nationality of the player isn't important, just that they were part of a club in that country for at least 36 months before their 21st birthday. To allow for the use of loans, the player can be on loan, even to a foreign club, during that time, as long as the club that owns the player maintains his registration rights.
Further complicating the rule is an additional requirement: at least four of the home grown players must have been considered to have been trained at the club. Put simply, take all the "formed in country" rules and apply it specifically to the club registering their roster. With Paolo Cannavaro leaving this summer, Napoli's task of meeting that requirement becomes just a little bit harder. For those interested, the exact wording of those rules will be at the end of this post, along with a link to the full UEFA Champions League rulebook.
So before we get too caught up in transfer rumors and who's coming and who's going and what the club needs, let's take a step back. First, we need to see where the roster stands as far as the Champions League is concerned, and what kind of space there may or may not be.
UEFA Roster Regulations
25 man roster limit, of which:
At least eight (8) must be
Of which, four (4) must be Club Trained.
At least two (2) Goalkeepers must be registered.
Any roster spot that cannot be filled as required must be left empty.
*Indicates Association Trained
^Indicates Club Trained
- Rafael Cabral, GK
- Mariano Andujar, GK
- Christian Maggio, RB/RW*
- Giandomenico Mesto, RB*
- Camilo Zuniga, RB/LB
- Faouzi Ghoulam, LB
- Raul Albiol, CB
- Federico Fernandez, CB
- Henrique Buss, CB/RB/DM
- Miguel Britos, CB
- Michele Girardi, CB/RB^
- Gokhan Inler, CM/DM
- Valon Behrami, CM/DM*
- Luca Palmeiro, CM/DM^
- Jorginho, CM
- Blerim Dzemaili, CM
- Josip Radosevic, CM
- Marek Hamsik, AM*
- Lorenzo Insigne, LW/AM/FW^
- Dries Mertens, LW/AM/RW
- Jose Callejon, RW/AM/FW
- Goran Pandev, AM/FW*
- Gennaro Tutino, RW/AM^
- Gonzalo Higuain, FW
- Duvan Zapata, FW
Most of these names are pretty straightforward and easy, but there's three that a lot of Napoli fans might not recognize. Gennaro Tutino, Luca Palmeiro, and Michele Girardi were needed to make up numbers on the roster as otherwise Napoli have just one club-trained player in Lorenzo Insigne. The three spots could be left empty, but the players may as well be registered for the sake of insurance of depth.
All three are quality players in Napoli's Primavera youth squad, and played a major role in the squad's UEFA Youth League run. Tutino is probably Napoli's best prospect, Palmeiro captains the youth squad, and Girardi was the steadiest defender among Napoli's youngsters.
An interesting sidebar is that of unfortunate timing. Because of the strictures of UEFA's qualifications for how a player qualifies as club- or association-trained (which again are below), if Napoli had acquired Josip Radosevic in August of 2012 rather than January of 2013, he would qualify as club-trained this season. That would allow Napoli to essentially use an extra open roster slot for another player instead of giving one to a youth player who likely won't participate.
Elsewhere, there's plenty of questions still to resolve in the squad. Three players (Zuniga, Behrami, and Dzemaili) have already been heavily linked with departures, and there's several others who could leave as well. Then there's the matter of adding in new signings; Kalidou Koulibaly will need to be added once his transfer is made official, and it sounds like Riccardo Bigon is working on at least two or three other signings as well.
It's going to be an interesting logistics game to watch play out. As the transfer window unfolds, we'll come back a couple of times to update how the roster looks, both with arrivals and departures.
As promised, UEFA's regulations on what qualifies a player as club- or association-trained are below, taken directly from last season's Champions League rulebook:
18.10 A "club-trained player" is a player who, between the age of 15 (or the start of the season during which he turns 15) and 21 (or the end of the season during which he turns 21), and irrespective of his nationality and age, has been registered with his current club for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons (i.e. a period starting with the first official match of the relevant national championship and ending with the last official match of that relevant national championship) or of 36 months.
18.11 An "association-trained player" is a player who, between the age of 15 (or the start of the season during which the player turns 15) and 21 (or the end of the season during which the player turns 21), and irrespective of his nationality and age, has been registered with a club or with other clubs affiliated to the same association as that of his current club for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons or of 36 months.