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Napoli plotting Axel Witsel transfer from Zenit?

Reports in Italy indicate that they're meeting with the hard-nosed Belgian midfielder's agent.

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As the summer transfer mercato takes shape, one thing is clear: Napoli wants to strengthen their midfield, and not just in a figurative sense. They've been linked with a few different rougher, tougher midfielders than what they currently have, and the latest name in that crop might be the most intriguing: Zenit St Petersburg midfielder and Belgium international Axel Witsel.

Reports indicate that Napoli held meetings with Witsel's agent on Friday in order to sound out a potential deal and assess the financial outlay it would take, and it seems as though if they're taking that step that they are very interested in bringing the big Belgian to Italy. Witsel has been linked to a move to Serie A for a few years now, with Juventus and AC Milan typically being the pursuing parties in the past.

A very athletically gifted midfielder, Witsel would give Napoli an alternative to Allan that would let them match up better with teams that play more physically. That's something they've struggled with at times over the past few years, and with Witsel having the toughness and willingness to play hard in defense paired with the technical skills to not miss a beat in Maurizio Sarri's possession game, he seems like a good fit for Napoli.

The wrinkle is that he'd likely reduce Allan's playing time significantly, but that might be mitigated somewhat by the Brazilian's versatility -- we saw at times last year that Allan has a lot of ability to bomb forward up the pitch, and a sorely underrated and under-expressed creative side. If Witsel signs and gets the lion's share of the minutes in the midfield spot Allan held last season, Allan could serve as a swing backup to both Witsel and Marek Hamsik, a prospect Maurizio Sarri would find attractive.

That said, signing Witsel will be difficult at best. Zenit have long been loathe to sell Witsel, and even though he only has one more year on his contract, there's little reason to think that they'll be changing their stance now. Even when teams have agreed terms to buy Witsel and got a contract agreed with the player, Zenit would jack up their fee demands at the last minute and sink the deal, as Juventus and Milan both saw happen to them last year.

The current rumor is that Zenit want somewhere between €30 and €40 million for Witsel, likely on the higher end of that range. With that paired with wages that would probably be north of €4 million a season -- which would be second-highest on the team behind only Gonzalo Higuain -- and it's not likely that Napoli wind up signing Witsel this summer. Seeing them open talks for him is interesting, though, and at worst expresses that they're serious about spending a lot of money on the squad this summer -- and at best, could wind up with them finding a way to actually sign Witsel, which would be far from a bad thing.