In an interview earlier this week, Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis said that he is hoping to make two signings for the partenopei this January -- plus another one "for June." That strongly hints that Napoli have a player whose contract is expiring this season targeted to sign to a pre-contract to join the team next season, which raises questions about who might be coming in.
If you're wondering how Napoli can sign a player in January and have them join in June, the mechanism is fairly simple. The player would be signed to a "pre-contract," something that comes from the 1995 Bosman ruling that allowed for free transfers of players out of contract. Players whose contracts are expiring at the end of the current season can, starting in January, agree to a contract with a new team to move at the end of the season. The only real restriction is that you can't sign a player currently playing in your team's country to a pre-contract, so Napoli wouldn't be able to sign any Serie A-based players just yet.
Given the wide variety of such players likely to be on the market, let's take a look at some of the potential fits. There's going to be a pretty clear theme that will be apparent early on.
Joel Matip, defender, Schalke (Germany)
Matip is a 24 year old central defender who has spent his whole career with Schalke, and over the last couple of years he has blossomed fantastically. A tall and strong defender, Matip is also technically sound and shows significant upside left in his game. Napoli would be hard-pressed to sign Matip, with Liverpool also aiming to sign him, perhaps even buying him outright in January instead of signing him to a pre-contract, but if they could convince the Cameroonian international to come to Italy, their defense would be much better for it.
Branislav Ivanovic, defender, Chelsea (England)
At 31, Ivanovic doesn't really fit the mold Napoli have been working from in recent years, but there's still plenty of reason to think they could sign to big Serb. He's a versatile defender, capable of playing centrally or on the right, and his bulldozing style would fit well with how Napoli have played this year, and it's perfectly believable that Maurizio Sarri could turn around his sagging form. Especially with questions as to how much longer Napoli will have Raul Albiol and Kalidou Koulibaly around, bringing Ivanovic and his considerable experience on next summer makes a lot of sense for Napoli.
Nicolas Nkoulou, defender, Marseille (France)
Nkoulou has spent the last three and a half seasons with Marseille and has played his whole career in France, though only in the last couple of years has he really started to realize his significant potential. Now 25, Nkoulou is set for a big step forward in his career, taking on new challenges and hopefully grabbing a bigger spotlight. Napoli have been linked to the central defender before, and while other clubs will surely be in on him as well, they'd be an excellent fit for the athletic Cameroonian.
Eder Alvarez Balanta, defender, River Plate (Argentina)
Balanta would be something of a dream signing to get on a free. The Colombian international is just 22, but is already one of the best central defenders active in Argentina over the last couple of years. He's not the tallest defender around, but he's got tremendous speed, athleticism, power, and instincts, not to mention an impressive vertical leap. His technical skills still need work, but that's not unusual for a 22 year old defender, especially one playing in South America. Napoli have tried to sign him before, but were scared off by River Plate's sky-high asking price. Now they can get him for free, and if they can convince him to sign, they absolutely, 100% need to pull the trigger.
Sofiane Feghouli, winger, Valencia (Spain)
The one non-defender on this list, Feghouli is a tremendously talented if somewhat inconsistent winger who has largely excelled at Valencia, especially over the last two seasons. He's more of a straight-line, turn-and-burn type of winger than the wide forwards Napoli typically favor, but that is a tactical option that the partenopei could use. Napoli would have a big edge in trying to sign Feghouli, as his Algerian national teammate Faouzi Ghoulam would be a huge help for getting him settled, both into the Napoli team and in Naples itself. He would be an excellent asset for Napoli, and we shouldn't be shocked at all if he winds up being the guy they're going after.