Napoli have themselves a new midfielder, one who's drawn comparisons in how he plays to such luminaries as the venerable Andrea Pirlo, despite having only one season of Serie A experience under his belt. Mirko Valdifiori is generally regarded as a solid player, having played a key role in keeping Empoli up in Serie A this past season, but what exactly have Napoli gotten for their €5 million transfer fee?
DOB: April 21, 1986 (29) | Height: 5'9" (1.76 meters)
2015 Season: 38 appearances (37 starts)
0 goals, 8 assists
Strengths: Valdifiori is a calm presence in possession. He can move the ball quickly, slow down the pace, keep his side out of trouble with solid ball placement, and reliably get the ball to his side's attacking and creative players. He's not going to dazzle you with long-range balls that drop perfectly on to a rushing striker, but what he does do has a ton of value to creating a sustainable attacking side that doesn't rely on opponents' mistakes to get the job done.
The 29 year old is also very good at serving up set pieces. Valdifiori doesn't quite have a handle on threatening with direct shots on goal from dead ball situations, he has a deft touch for dropping the ball in to spaces between defenders for his teammates to jump on. He's head-and-shoulders better at set piece service than any other Napoli player, both from corners and free kicks, so he should be the main man taking them this coming season.
Weaknesses: Valdifiori does a lot of things decently defensively, but if he has to handle a runner one-on-one without much support -- well, it's not going to go very well. He doesn't have the physicality or defensive technique to break it up without giving up a dumb foul, which thanks to where he plays is generally going to be in an area that you don't want to give up dumb fouls in. Much like Pirlo, who Mirko is oft-compared to these days, he needs other midfielders to help shield him so this doesn't happen very often.
He's also not going to give you goals. At all. He's scored four as a professional player, with his most recent coming wayyyyy back in 2012. People like midfielders to score goals, but Valdifiori just isn't a goalscorer by any meaningful sense of the word. He doesn't get a lot of chances at it thanks to his deep playing position, sure, but he's also just bad at shooting. All of his shots last season came from outside the box, and while a few of them got on-frame, none were particularly threatening. Thankfully, he's plenty good at setting up goals.
Summation: Valdifiori has all the tools to be a solid contributor to this Napoli side. Don't make any mistakes though: he's only a good player, not anywhere close to a great one, and at his age, what you see is what you get. He's not going to miraculously improve, he's not going to magically fix his flaws. He is what he is, and that's that.
But what Valdifiori does with his skills on the pitch is only part of why Napoli brought him in. He's a smart player and knows Maurizio Sarri's midfield system inside and out after spending so much time playing for Napoli's new manager.
That intelligence and knowledge can and will be used to help Napoli's other midfielders adapt to Sarri's system, essentially giving them another coach who's out there with them on the training pitch and on the field in games to help get them comfortable with what they're doing. This is a very different system from what these players ran under Rafa Benitez, so anything that can help them adapt is well worth the effort.