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Napoli must keep Manolo Gabbiadini and help him thrive

Who better to replace Gonzalo Higuain than someone who spent the last year and a half learning from him?

SSC Napoli v OGC Nice Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Something that’s widely been lost in the search for the replacement of Gonzalo Higuain is that Napoli already have another very talented center forward on the roster: Manolo Gabbiadini. That was true when Higuain was sold, and it’s even more true after his stunning four-goal display against AS Monaco on Sunday.

While the Italian international is far from content after hardly being utilized last season, the departure of Higuain presents a major opportunity to both player and club. If Gabbiadini is given a chance to seize Higuain’s old starting role for himself and can do well with it, it would prove that he has what it takes to succeed at a high level. For Napoli, such success would redeem their choice to limit him somewhat last season, and prove just why they were so excited to sign him in the first place.

Napoli have already signed Arkadiusz Milik to help fill the void left up top, but the wonderful thing about that signing is that it doesn’t force Gabbiadini out of the picture at all. Other signings they’re apparently considering making would, however, including one that would send him out of the team entirely. That would be a huge mistake, and one that would cost Napoli dearly.

That’s because further resources spent on trying to improve the position would be very likely wasted. Yes, there are a handful of strikers who may be on the market who could legitimately improve Napoli’s presence up top and be an upgrade on Gabbiadini, but not the one they seem to be focused on, Mauro Icardi. We’ve gone over that at length before, but it bears repeating: Icardi is a good striker, but a bad fit for Napoli. Gabbiadini? He’s a good striker and a good fit for Napoli, and not just because he knows the system and his teammates already.

We saw it clearly against Monaco: Gabbiadini gets how this team works, and his skills fit the bill beautifully. Time and again, he anticipated passes coming from Marek Hamsik and Dries Mertens and Allan and got himself to where the ball was heading seemingly even before he saw it coming. That quality instinct combined with silky movement and under-appreciated speed saw him cut up Monaco’s actually quite talented defense again and again and again.

And it’s not so easy to dismiss that performance by waving your hand and saying “it’s just a pre-season friendly.” Sure, it is, but Monaco are a legitimate Champions League team who have caused noise the last couple of years, and it’s not like we haven’t seen performances like this from Gabbiadini before. Yes, he needs to be more consistent about how he plays — especially since his off days are really off — but Gabbiadini was born to play in a team like how Napoli are built to play. What possible harm could there be in giving him a shot to show what he can do if given a real chance to, well, show what he can do?

Because let’s face it: so far, Gabbiadini hasn’t been given that chance. His playing time was sporadic at best last season, and between Higuain’s god-like, record-setting scoring form and a couple real clunkers in big matches from Gabbi, Sarri was often and understandably hesitant to bring the Italian striker into his lineup. Even in his first half-season with Napoli, Gabbiadini’s playing time was hardly something you could call “consistent,” especially with him constantly being shuttled around from one position to another, be it up front, on either wing, or because Rafa Benitez is a lunatic, occasionally playing behind the striker in place of Hamsik.

Now is the time to give Gabbiadini the chance he deserves, the chance he’s earned. We’ve all seen the quotes from his agent, repeated several times over the last few weeks, that he wants to stay, and he wants to show everyone what he’s truly capable of. The only thing stopping him right now is Napoli, who don’t seem to be sure if they should keep him despite all the evidence that is screaming for them to stand pat.

Please, Napoli, see reason. Don’t sell Manolo Gabbiadini. Don’t buy another striker who would bury him on the depth chart again. Don’t make the mistake of letting what could be the perfect fit for this team go to waste. Gabbiadini is right there, holding out his hand, waiting for you to take it and give him what he needs to thrive. Make the right decision.