Marek Hamsik is difficult to miss on a football pitch, and not just because of his distinctive Mohican hairstyle. Performing just behind the strikers, his ubiquitous presence and constant activity make the 25-year-old Slovakian as important a player for Napoli as their iconic forward, Edinson Cavani, who benefits regularly from his team-mate’s through balls and crosses.
FIFA.com met up for a chat with this skilful trequartista, a term taken very seriously in Italian football, and used to describe a playmaking attacking midfielder who operates as close as possible to the attack.
“I was 19 when I arrived here. Nobody knew who I was but Napoli didn’t hesitate to give me a chance,” recalls the skipper of the Slovakian national team. “For six seasons we’ve developed together, Napoli and me. We can still climb even higher. I’m comfortable here and I’d like to continue to grow with Napoli.”
Every time a transfer window comes along, Hamsik is forced to repeat this mantra in order to reassure the Partenopei’s fervent fan base that he is impervious to interest from some of the biggest clubs in Europe.
These heartfelt comments have made him a firm favourite in Naples, to the extent that, following the theft of his watch, said to be worth €25,000, the club’s supporters investigated and handed it back to him in person.
Since joining the southern Italian side in 2007, Hamsik has always managed to score at least ten goals per season, as well as numerous assists. This year, he ended the season as the best passer in Serie A, having laid a goal on a plate for team-mates ten times, and thereby succeeded Zlatan Ibrahimovic (2010/11) and Antonio Cassano (2011/12).
But when he is asked to name his prime attribute, he responds without hesitation. “An eye for goal. I’m drawn towards the goal, and I’m always looking for an opening. But most importantly, I like what I do; I really enjoy playing.”
The next Nedved?
Asked to drop back to his current role by former coach Walter Mazzarri, he adapted quickly and performed with great effectiveness. “What’s my ideal position? I just adapt; I really don’t have a preference. I can operate in a three-man attack or just behind two front men. It’s all fine by me,” replies Hamsik, who Pavel Nedved has pinpointed as his natural successor.
“That’s kind of Nedved, as he worked hard in midfield but could also score goals. But I also like players such as Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Zinedine Zidane,” he said.
As well as choosing his role models wisely, the playmaker also knows how to draw inspiration from them. For many months now, his overall game has been getting closer to that of his idols, as he now orchestrates attacking moves, sets up his team-mates and occasionally pops up with an important strike.
The recent appointment of Rafael Benitez, a man who has coached both Gerrard and Lampard, as Napoli coach should enable Hamsik to develop further and to become a real leader out on the pitch.
How is it, then, that despite counting the league’s top goalscorer and best passer among their ranks, Napoli let the Serie A title slip away from them, much to Juventus’ delight?
“We dropped points in games that we could easily have won. Strangely, most of those came at home. We just didn’t turn up to our games with Torino, Bologna and Sampdoria. It was really at Stadio San Paolo that our scudetto dream went up in smoke,” he said in a regretful tone.
Brazil 2014 ambition
The Slovakian is hopeful about not having regrets at international level too, but that will be dependent on his nation’s performances in their upcoming FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers.
“To secure one of the World Cup play-off places, we need to pick up six points from the next three matches,” explained the man who received his first cap in February 2007 at the age of 19.
While an initial trip to Liechtenstein is unlikely to pose a huge problem for the Slovakians, the following fixture against unbeaten Group G leaders Bosnia-Herzegovina should provide much more of a test. “It will be difficult,” admitted the talented international, who already has 63 caps and ten goals for the Repre to his name.
“Our greatest strength is the large number of young talents in the squad who could still be playing alongside each other for many years to come. But that’s also the reason that we lack a bit of experience,” he added.
Married and with two young children, Hamsik does not, at first glance, resemble a quiet family man. “I know that I’m the idol of numerous children in Naples, and that their mothers are not at all happy about my hairstyle!” he joked, before making a more serious point: “But I want to be someone that all children can look up to, not only on the pitch but off it too.”
And it is this type of statement, as well as his fine performances in blue and white, that have made Marek Hamsik a huge favourite with the fans in Naples.