A slow-burning rumor all summer long looks like it's about to come to fruition: according to reports in Italy, Napoli are "close" to signing midfielder Piotr Zielinski from Udinese.
Another player with experience under Maurizio Sarri, Zielinski spent the last two years on loan at Empoli to gain experience, and the 22 year old definitely did that. He played 63 times for Empoli in league action in that time, scoring five goals and creating seven more. Most of that output came this past season, when he saw 35 starts a year after mostly featuring as a supersub and rotation starter for Sarri.
The deal is believed to be worth somewhere around €15 million, with the exact value depending on another factor. That other factor would be that Udinese would receive Camilo Zuniga -- back with Napoli for the time being after his Bologna loan ended -- and that the fee for Zielinski would change depending on how much of the €3.5 million left of Zuniga's wages Napoli would be willing to pay.
It's a pricey deal for a relatively inexperienced midfielder, but it's hard to deny that Zielinski has talent. The Polish international opened a lot of eyes this past season and drew transfer interest even in England, as it's believed that Napoli only narrowly beat Liverpool to agreeing a deal. How exactly they managed that is unknown given the financial weight the better English clubs can throw around, but surely playing time incentives for Zielinski would play a part in it.
Mostly a creative midfielder but also carrying a solid work rate and possession skills, Zielinski offers a diverse rotation option for Sarri and a good attacking option off the bench for midfield -- and more importantly, he would finally give Napoli the backup for Marek Hamsik they've been clamoring for, with the potential to be a whole lot more. And make no mistake, for all his current quality, the fee Napoli are believed to be paying is 100% a gamble on his potential. Many believe that Zielinski has the attributes and capability to be a player similar to Hamsik if not better down the line -- if Napoli could get that in the side now and help him develop into those talents, that would be incredibly valuable.
It's a big "if" though, especially as to this point Zielinski has only shown flashes of that considerable upside, with little consistency to date. He is still quite young, though, and getting experience working with a veteran with a similar skillset in Hamsik in an environment like the one Napoli have created could be just the ticket to unlocking that potential.
While the reports characterize the deal as one that could be finalized at any time, don't expect to have anything happen right away. After all, Zielinski is with the Polish international side in France getting ready for Euro 2016 to kick off. While Zielinski is unlikely to play a major starting role, he has earned 14 international caps to date and scored 3 goals, so expect to see plenty of him during the European Championships over the coming weeks.