If there's one thing Napoli fans want, it's a Scudetto. Napoli haven't won Italy's highest honor since the days of Diego Maradona, and with how the club has risen in recent years, it's the next and biggest target to accomplish. Unfortunately, with Juventus steam-rolling the league over the last three years, that's been a very difficult target to approach.
Now, all that has changed.
Antonio Conte is gone, replaced by the not-as-bad-as-advertised-but-not-very-good Max Allegri. Rumor has it that's because Juve are about to sell Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba. Now the rumor mill is churning on other potential departures, and of course there's always the fun storyline of how Allegri and Andrea Pirlo really don't like each other very much.
Long story short, Juventus appear to be fracturing, and that opens an opportunity no one thought would be there even two days ago.
With Juve suddenly becoming much weaker, that throws the Serie A title race open wider than it's been in years. Roma are already trying to take advantage, trumping Juve's attempt to buy young starlet Juan Iturbe and buying him out from under their noses. It sounds like that's going to be far from the last such big deal that they'll try to make, as they try to strengthen their side as much as possible for a Scudetto push in this new Italian landscape without Juve set as locked-on favorites for the title.
The question, then, is should Napoli do the same thing? Should they throw caution to the wind, open up the checkbook, and say screw financial responsibility, we can win this thing now?
Roma suddenly blitzing the transfer market makes things more complicated, but even without that you can certainly make the case for a more aggressive approach to the market being worth the risk. We don't know how long Juve will be off-balance for, and even if they do lose Pogba, Vidal, and others, they still have a very, very good roster for Allegri to work with (even if it is currently tailored to how Conte runs his side, and not at all to Allegri's tactics). Roma have an excellent roster themselves, and on paper right now there could be a very exciting three-way race for the title. If Napoli were to go spend big sign a couple high quality talents, they could give themselves a leg up in that race.
The trouble is figuring out whether or not it makes sense to, and there's several factors to consider. The first, and arguably most important, is the financial consideration of such an aggressive push. Under Aurelio De Laurentiis, a club that was once bankrupt is now financially healthy, thanks to a reasonable financial setup that didn't let the club outspend its means. As revenues have been added and improved, wage and transfer budgets have increased, but staying relatively risk-free has always been the goal as Napoli has gotten to where it is now.
Going all-out and spending well beyond those means exposes Napoli to risk not just in their bottom line, but with UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations as well. FFP regulates how much a club can spend (based on their revenues, not a flat figure) and still participate unfettered in the Champions League or Europa League, designed to prevent clubs from falling in to a black hole of overspending and collapsing financially.
So far Napoli haven't had any issues meeting the FFP guidelines so far; in point of fact, they're one of the most compliant clubs around thanks to De Laurentiis making that a point of emphasis since FFP became "a thing" several years ago. That said, a huge spend this summer could create issues down the line if revenues don't come up, forcing the club to sell some higher-value players to get back in line and keep from getting sanctioned. That would be something we don't want to see, and would undo any good work done in the interim. Even the prize of a league title isn't worth that.
The other issue has to do with squad cohesion. This became a tight-knit group last season, one that worked together very, very well. There were some exceptions (go away, Valon and Goran), but on a whole we saw the exact kind of camaraderie and ability to grow together as a unit that you want to see. So far, Napoli's transfer activity hasn't done anything to disrupt that bond, and in fact might even serve to strengthen it if someone like Lucas Leiva comes around.
If Napoli go out and make some big, splashy signings, that cohesion could be threatened. Thanks to the quality of the squad, there's only so many spots that can truly be upgraded, and all of them pose disruptive risks if moves are made. If Napoli do make a big splash or two or three, they'll have to be very careful as to who they get, to try and avoid screwing up a good thing. Yes, that means no Mario Balotelli. Sorry, Maradona.
Assuming Michu arrives from Swansea City (a deal that's been held up for an annoyingly long time by Swansea) and Lucas gets loaned from Liverpool, Napoli are left with three apparent needs: a wide attacker to supplement the Tiny Trio of Insigne, Mertens, and Callejon; a more central attacking mid who can also play deeper if needed; and a center back who's an upgrade in immediate quality on Raul Albiol and/or Federico Fernandez. Of those three, only two (the wide attacker and a center back) really allow for any kind of star-impact signing, and both pose risks of alienating or pushing away other vital members of the squad.
The wide attacker may seem odd with the aforementioned Tiny Trio doing so well last season, but all three struggled with fatigue at times last season as there was no fourth member of their gang to allow for proper rotation and rest, forcing some combination of two of the three to start every match. Adding another quality set of legs will help prevent that next season, and give Rafa Benitez more tactical options to play with.
Among names currently on the market, Xherdan Shaqiri is still probably the biggest name to consider, though Napoli have yet to be formally linked with him. Rumors of interest in Andre Ayew still persist, though, and he'd also be worth adding, though he maybe lacks the star power of a truly "big" signing. Juan Iturbe would have been perfect, but he's with Roma now.
A central defender could also be a big help to this squad, as even as stout a pairing as Albiol and Ferndandez struggled at times last season. Adding in a "big time" defender to allow for a three-man rotation (working in Henrique Buss and Kalidou Koulibaly periodically) could seriously help boost Napoli's defensive quality next season. Mistakes at the back, especially from a dog-tired Albiol towards the end of the season, helped serve to drop too many points for Napoli last season, and fixing that could help them stay in the thick of the title race this year.
As far as who to plug in at the position, that's a little murky. There's not any center backs of the needed level of quality on the market right now, but it's a position where things can change in a hurry. A year ago, Mamadou Sakho went from nigh-untouchable at PSG to wearing Liverpool red at a shockingly affordable fee in the space of about two weeks. It's no guarantee that a defender of Sakho's quality will come available this summer, but if someone does, Napoli should look long and hard at signing him.
The central mid is a definite need, as Napoli need a vice-Hamsik something fierce, but isn't really a hole that can be filled with a big, splashy signing. The role might be filled soon anyways, as Napoli have reportedly been pushing hard at Granit Xhaka. Xhaka's not the big, splashy signing the "go for it" crowd would get excited about, but he does offer high degree of quality for the role and a bright future to boot.
No matter what Napoli do this summer, it's going to be fascinating to watch unfold. Financially speaking, they can probably afford one "splash" signing without too much strain. With what signings they have in progress, though, and others they've been linked to, there's certainly a question as to whether or not they'll need to in order to be able to keep up with Roma's improvements. The smarter play may be to see things out as planned and save the big money for January to plug any holes that crop up.
On a whole, it really seems as though the smarter play for Napoli would be to stand firm and keep moving along as planned. They certainly can take a go-big-or-go-home approach to the rest of the summer, as Roma seem to be starting to do, but the long-term risks outweigh the short-term goals, especially if they do fall short of a Scudetto this season. Napoli fans would much rather see a Napoli side that's healthy and competitive in the long run, not one that has to be blown up and rebuilt in two or three years because of financial issues. This is going to be a damn good team no matter what, and adding a bunch of big names won't help Napoli as much as some might think.