Watching the rise of Faouzi Ghoulam over the past year has been a treat for Napoli fans. Brought in from French side St. Etienne last January, he made an immediate impact on the Napoli side as the best left back the club has had in... quite a long time, really. The 23 year old has been getting better and better since he first donned a blue shirt, and Napoli fans have been very thankful for the quality he brings on the pitch.
For now, though, he'll be missed; Ghoulam has been a regular in the Algeria international side since he joined Napoli, including two appearances for the Fennec Foxes in the World Cup and four starts during their impressive qualifying run for the African Cup of Nations. Algeria's preparations for that annual tournament have called him away from Naples for the next several weeks, as they hope to secure their second AFCON title after last winning it all the way back in 1990.
A year ago, Ghoulam was on the fringes of the Algerian side, but thanks to the strides he's taken in Italy, he was a lock to make the roster. That progress is something Ghoulam attributes to the work he's put in with Rafa Benitez:
"Thanks to Napoli, I know what it means to play in the big competitions, playing important games and working with a coach with as good a reputation as Benitez who pushes me to improve myself always, I owe my maturity to him. I'm thrilled for the Super Cup win, it's another title to put on the bulletin board. I'm ready for adventure with Algeria in the African Cup of Nations, the break between the Super Cup and starting training with the national team has left me fresh and rested."
Watching how Ghoulam performs with Algeria will be a highlight for Napoli fans who watch Africa's premier competition. Algeria has been drawn in to a very tough group alongside Ghana, Senegal, and South Africa; just qualifying out of it will be a huge statement of how far they've progressed in recent years. Their first match is against South Africa on January 19th at the Estadio de Mongomo in Equatorial Guinea. If Ghoulam plays well, it will be a huge, huge help towards Algeria's chances for advancement.