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Jorginho would have left had Rafa Benitez stayed

If Napoli had held onto Rafa, Jorginho would have been among the players heading for the exit.

Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

One of the more pleasant surprises of Napoli's season so far has been the performance of Jorginho, with the midfielder on top form during his three recent starts and making a profound impact as a substitute as well. His influence at the base of Napoli's midfield has been a driving factor in the club's recent turnaround in form -- and he very nearly wasn't part of the team to help provide that difference.

In an interview with Radio CRC, Jorginho's agent revealed that, had Rafa Benitez stayed on as Napoli's manager, Jorginho wouldn't have stayed with the club. Of course, that didn't happen -- Rafa took his ball and left for Spain, while his replacement, Maurizio Sarrihas come to prefer Jorginho over a player in Mirko Valdifiori that he spent the last two years coaching.

It shouldn't be surprising that we'd hear of something like this. There was talk for much of Napoli's pre-season training camp of various players who probably wouldn't have stuck it out if Rafa was still leading the team, and Jorginho was among those that many felt had been misused by the Spaniard for much of his time after joining the club, especially last season.

Jorginho has always been best as a deeper-lying playmaker, with him growing into prominence at Hellas Verona as a not-quite-regista before signing with Napoli. During his first half-season with the club, Jorginho was often employed in such a role and shone, but for some reason over the summer Benitez decided to stop doing that. During last season's ill-fated campaign, Jorginho was more often employed as either a more strictly defensive midfielder, or in more of a box-to-box role, neither of which he's particularly well-suited to. Shockingly enough, he struggled except for the rare occasions he was allowed to play more naturally.

Fortunately for Jorginho -- and for Napoli it would seem -- Maurizio Sarri came in with a system that relies on just the kind of player Jorginho is, and both he and new sporting director Cristiano Giuntoli insisted that he stay because they knew he'd be important. Valdifiori was brought in because he knows Sarri's midfield system well and Jorginho had been shaky the season before, but so far in competitive matches it's been the Brazilian who's been the better player at the base of the partenopei midfield.

The best part for Napoli is that, at 23 years old, Jorginho still has plenty of improving left to do. He's probably not going to get an order of magnitude better -- though it's not completely unusual for players like him to bloom a little later -- but we should still see plenty of boosts in his overall skillset and talent level over the next couple of years. It's a good thing that growth will be coming in a Napoli shirt.