They've spent all season looking for midfield help, and now the first of it has arrived. Napoli have signed Jonathan De Guzman from Spanish outfit Villarreal after he spent the last two years with Swansea City on loan, and the midfielder figures to help give Napoli a fair boost this season. Let's take a peek at what he can bring to the partenopei.
DOB: September 13, 1987 (26) | Height: 5'8.5" (1.74 meters)
2014 Season (Swansea City): 48 appearances (36 starts)
7 goals, 4 assists
Strengths: In terms of midfield discipline and creativity, De Guzman is as solid as they come. At his core, he's a more athletic version of Jorginho (albeit with a slightly lesser skill level), in that he sits behind the main attacking bands of his side's formation, using quality passes and through balls to create opportunities for his teammates. De Guzman also uses his superior pace and athleticism to more directly aid the attack with supporting runs in to the box at times, and has a nice shot from range to boot.
In defense, De Guzman operates effectively, though not aggressively. That is to say that instead of flying around the pitch looking to lay heavy tackles, De Guzman looks to press and harry the man with the ball if he can, or look to cut off passing lanes if he cannot. When the action gets too far behind his position, he sets himself up to mark the "attack reset" man, the midfielder who sits behind the action to take a linking pass back behind the box, and also to serve as an outlet once his defense wins the ball back and looks to launch a counter-attack.
De Guzman is also quite good at set piece service. He has a natural understanding of what it takes to drop the ball just there so that one of his teammates can take a pop at it, something not many do. He's a fair hand (well, foot) at direct shots off set pieces as well, but service in to the box is where he really shines, both on free kicks and corners. It's not clear right off the bat where he'll fit in to the set piece hierarchy Rafa Benitez has been establishing, but don't be shocked if De Guzman takes a lot of them while he's on the pitch.
Weaknesses: Despite his athleticism and skill, De Guzman isn't especially strong and has some clear faults in his game because of it. When he's carrying the ball, it's far too easy for a more physical player to simply muscle De Guzman off the ball and turn it over (though he does have a penchant for a last desperate toe-poke at the ball to tap it to a teammate).
De Guzman's lack of strength shows up in a couple other areas as well. While he's actually got a fair vertical leap for someone of his size, opposing players are generally able to just muscle him away while going up for a header. It's also a liability in defense, as he's poor in the tackle and can't do very much against a strong player on the ball. That combination of factors leave him a liability in the box in set-piece defense, leaving him better off lurking outside the box to deal with a runner or serve as a clearance outlet.
Other Thoughts: Should Napoli ever go to Canada on a pre-season tour, don't expect De Guzman to receive a warm welcome despite having been born and raised in Toronto. Unlike his older brother Julian, who starred for Toronto FC for several years and has over 70 international caps for Canada, De Guzman has never treated his home country warmly, rejecting numerous international call-ups from his homeland in favor of waiting for a callup from Holland, who he was eligible for after spending the early years of his career in the Netherlands and earning Dutch citizenship. He's also been somewhat derisive towards Canadian football at times in interviews, which hasn't helped the opinion of him back home any.
Summation: This seems like a solid signing for Napoli. They needed a proper backup for Jorginho, and De Guzman gives them one with a minimum of dropoff in quality. He can also back up Marek Hamsik in a pinch, something the side also needed, and his energy, shots from range, and set piece service can make him a quality option off the bench. A strong chemistry with Michu built up in Swansea over the past two years won't hurt any, either.
While De Guzman isn't the ball-winner that Napoli have been seeking, he does fill a very clear role in the side and fills it well. His signing also does nothing to prevent the signing of a ball-winning midfielder, or of a center back for that matter. This is a good signing that the club needed to make once the option came available, and it's good to see them move in and seal the deal so quickly once it was. The fee is reasonable, the wages fit, and the player is good. It's hard to ask for much more than that for right now.