Not all that long ago, Chrisitan Maggio was on top of the world. He was a regular in the Italian national team, was a key cog in one of Italy's best club sides, and beloved of their fanbase.
Now, he seems to be a broken shell of that man. Injuries have sapped his pace and effectiveness, and lately there's times that having a traffic cone at right back would seem more effective.
So what happened to Maggio? Why isn't he the player that he once was, and can Napoli do anything about it?
The Downhill Slide
Just over two years ago, Napoli were starting what eventually became the last season with Walter Mazzarri as manager. Maggio was 30, and coming off arguably the best season of his career. He scored a goal and created an assist in Napoli's first match of the season against Palermo, and looked to continue his strong form as the season progressed.
Then... that didn't happen.
We saw the first signs of what became a rapid decline in Maggio's overall skill level early on in the season, when it became clear that he'd lost a step of pace and was struggling to adapt to that. For the rest of the season things stayed more or less manageable, but it was clear he wasn't quite the same player he was before.
Last season, though, was worse. Maggio lost another step of pace, and struggled to adjust to playing as a more traditional fullback rather than the wingback role he'd excelled in for Napoli before. Other things started cropping up, too; positioning woes, a sudden drop in tackle quality, and struggles to get properly involved in the attack. Injuries and a collapsed lung only made things worse.
So far this season, things have slid even further down hill. Maggio seems to have lose all ability to cross adequately, is too frequently lost on the pitch, doesn't get back against counters, and struggles to keep up with wingers that have even a modicum of pace. Napoli have played just four competitive matches so far this season, and he's already been involved in over a dozen incidents where an attack breaks down his flank and he's nowhere to be seen because either he got caught way upfield on a counter and can't get back, or he's just wildly out of position for the nth time.
Through a combination of age, injuries, and maybe not being a great fullback in the first place (Maggio has always been better as a wing back), we've borne witness to a shockingly fast decline in the performance level of a talented player.
So What's Next?
The sad reality is that, no matter how much you like Christian Maggio, he's just not good enough to compete at the level Napoli wants to be at. Replacing him needs to become Napoli's highest priority in January, or next summer if no good candidates emerge in the winter transfer window.
Unfortunately, in the meantime there's not a lot of good options of how to work around the weakness that putting Maggio in the lineup brings. Giandomenico Mesto is, theoretically, the main backup right back, but in truth he's not as good as even the not-good modern day Maggio. Henrique Buss did a fair job filling in at right back late last season, but still has significant athletic and technical limitations borne simply out of being a central defender, not a wide player.
There's always the option of playing Camilo Zuniga on his more natural right side instead of the left, especially with Faouzi Ghoulam just about ready to return from injury. He's unquestionably better than Maggio at this stage of their careers, but moving him over also strips away any semblance of depth at left back, leaving Miguel Britos as the primary reserve there. Which... ugh.
Hopefully Rafa can figure out a solution to use in the short term. Perhaps using a proper ball-winner like David Lopez, who ranges sideline to sideline with ease, to help cover for Maggio in a tactical structure could work, but that could cause other limitations in the side that may be more harmful than otherwise if not deployed properly.
It's sad to see what was once a bright star flame out as quickly as Christian Maggio has. It's one of the sad realities of sports, though; eventually, all of our favorite players just stop being able to play at a high enough level. We just have to enjoy their performances as much as we can while they're still around.