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Mercato Madness: Napoli planning pair of pre-contract swoops

Napoli have their sights locked on to a pair of players with contracts set to expire at the end of this season, giving them two good players for far less money than it'd take otherwise.

Laurence Griffiths

January is an interesting time of year for football clubs, and of course their fans along with them. With the winter transfer window, a number of teams do some transfer business, addressing needs in the squad that were either unforeseen in the summer or created by injury or some other means. You also see a lot of loans of promising young players who need playing time to take the next step.

January also marks the opening of the "pre-contract" signing period, where clubs can approach players whose contracts are expiring at the end of the season to sign a new deal and move after the season. It can only be done internationally, so players currently within your own country can't be signed, mostly for competitive reasons. It's a mechanism designed to help facilitate free transfers and player movement abroad, and according to reports from Il Mattino, it's a mechanism Napoli are planning on using this January.

Based on that report, Napoli are planning on signing two players to pre-contract deals this winter: James Milner of Manchester City and Andre Ayew of Olympique Marseilles. Milner is a versatile English midfielder who can play a variety of roles and positions throughout midfield without missing a beat and has seemingly bottomless wells of energry, a combination that's incredibly valuable to a team competing on multiple fronts. While he's not flashy and doesn't score a ton of goals, Milner does a lot of the nitty-gritty work that helps win matches, and he does it well despite the amount of flak he catches from some people.

Ayew is an attacker who can play as a wide forward or as a secondary striker, and the Ghanaian international is pretty good at it. While it's "just" Ligue 1, Ayew has a very nice tally of 39 goals in 163 appearances in France's top division, and another six in 24 Champions League matches. For a guy who's mostly played on the wing in his career, that's a pretty good strike rate, especially when you add the seven goals he's scored for Ghana, five of which have come in African Cup Of Nations matches. He's quick, he's got a strong shot with his right foot, and he's got a fair eye for a pass or cross. Napoli were interested in Ayew over the summer before he decided to see out his contract, so it's no shock that they'd continue to show interest in a good player who fits them well.

If Napoli do sign one or both players to pre-contract deals in January, they could also use the leverage that agreement gives them to try to purchase them outright for a much lower fee than they'd get otherwise. With the player already slated to leave for free in a few months, many teams accept a relative pittance compared to the player's full value just to make sure they get something for him.

While Ayew would likely be a longer-term signing as he doesn't turn 25 until December, Milner would likely be targetted with a two or three year deal, as he turns 29 in January and is running out of time as an effective, top-level player. Either way, these are the exact kind of smart signings needed that lower the financial risk for Napoli while still giving them quality players to work with. These are two players who can do Napoli a lot of good. Getting them for free is just a bonus.