This is a post I was hoping I wouldn’t have to write… at least not for a few more seasons. Rumors surrounding Marek Hamsik’s move to China have been swirling around for a while now, but after the summer came and went it seemed as if he had a change of heart and decided to stay. Talk of him leaving persisted throughout the season as it often had throughout his career in Naples but he always ended up staying. So why would this be any different? Healthy again and back in the starting eleven against Sampdoria on Saturday night, Hamsik put in a vintage Hamsik performance, dominating the midfield and setting up the first goal with a beautiful long ball down the wing to Callejon. After a rough week, with the captain back, everything seemed to be right in Naples once again. Yet as he came off the field in the 74th minute something didn’t seem quite right. Hamsik seemed to linger on the field slightly longer, making sure to applaud the fans in every corner of the stadium who in turn returned the sentiment. The camera cut to the Napoli bench who were all on their feet giving their captain a standing ovation and it became clear that they knew something the rest of us didn’t.
After over a decade with the club, Hamsik has left Napoli to join Chinese club Dalian Yifang on a 3-year, 9 million euro deal. I can hardly blame him for leaving after all he has done for the club and with young talented midfielders like Ruiz and Zielinski continuing to improve, he probably saw the writing on the wall. My only regret is that, given the sudden nature of his departure, there were only around 15,000 fans at the San Paolo to witness his last game. Hardly the send off that a legend like Hamsik deserves. Surely he recognized that if the city knew this would be his last game they would have packed the historic stadium to give their captain a proper goodbye. Yet maybe this quit send off was the most fitting way for his time in Naples to come to an end. Hamsik was a relatively understated and quiet public figure, a rare quality given his star status, and the flashiest thing about him was his hair. He finishes his career in Italy as Napoli’s all time leader in appearances, goals, and assists. He may never be the cultural icon that Maradona is in Naples, but he will always be a legend in the city. I think Paolo Cannavaro said it best “Unfortunately the day has finally come that no Napoli fan ever wanted to come, but in life everything has a beginning and an end… At the end of the day, players mark eras that are at times forgotten many years later. I’m certain of one thing, that the name MAREK HAMSIK will echo in eternity through the streets of our city.”