FootballSerie A

Reunion with Ancelotti and Brands at Everton could get Hirving Lozano’s career back on track

April 8, 2020

NAPOLI and Hirving Lozano seemed like a perfect match last August. The Italian side, known for their free-flowing football and a frontline made up of electric, diminutive forwards, had beaten several of Europe’s biggest clubs to the signing of one the game’s most sought-after young wingers.

And the 24-year-old Mexican, it appeared, had chosen a destination which offered Champions League football and elite domestic competition without the goldfish-bowl pressure of a Barcelona or a Manchester United.

Just eight months on from the club-record €42m deal that took him from PSV – where he had scored an impressive 39 goals in two seasons – to the San Paolo, however, Lozano is a peripheral figure at Napoli. He will likely require a fresh move whenever the transfer market can reopen, with the momentum he built in the Eredivisie lost

“Lozano has to work harder and improve to be ready,” said Napoli manager Gennaro Gattuso prior to the club’s Champions League last-16 tie with Barcelona in February. “Right now, I am looking for different qualities that he doesn’t have, so at the moment I have no space for him in my team.”

Unable to dislodge Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon in the wide positions, and with Dries Mertens and Arkadiusz Milik higher in the pecking order centrally, Lozano has made little discernible impact at Napoli thus far. He has scored only twice in Serie A all season, and just half of his 16 league appearances have come as part of the starting line-up.

For a player who inspired excited scouting reports as a youngster in Mexico, thrilled with his direct and fearless wing play for Mexico at the 2018 World Cup and lived up to the hype in Holland, the deafening buzz of expectation that once shadowed Lozano has faded to barely a whimper.

Yet still there is, reportedly, widespread interest in the 24-year-old’s services. The last of Lozano’s meagre eight Serie A starts came way back in December, shortly before previous manager Carlo Ancelotti was relieved of his duties. The veteran Italian coach, now at Everton, still sees huge upside in the 39-cap Mexico star, and is believed to be keen on taking him to Goodison Park at the earliest opportunity.

Ancelotti’s chances of signing Lozano for a second time are boosted by the presence of Marcel Brands, Everton’s director of football, who was pivotal in bringing the attacker to Europe while at PSV. West Ham and Wolves have also been credited with an interest in the Italian press, while reports in Spain claim Atletico Madrid are preparing a move for the Napoli outcast. 

Although he hasn’t been seen at his best in Italy, Lozano can be a hugely effective weapon if deployed correctly. His pace and directness, ability to play on either flank and accomplished finishing are assets that, if Napoli aren’t willing to persist with him, could be tapped into elsewhere.

Ancelotti will fancy himself able to do just that. The Everton boss has worked with and developed some of the finest attacking players in modern European football throughout his career – from Andriy Shevchenko and Kaka to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo. Lozano, of course, is some way off that category of player, but Ancelotti specialises in simplifying instructions and placing his most gifted players in roles aligned to their strengths.

Supplanting Napoli’s well-established front three was never going to be straightforward for Lozano; a prominent and ready-made role in the Toffees attack could be restorative to his confidence. Equally, the clarity of instruction for which Atletico’s Diego Simeone is renowned has the potential to revitalise Lozano, even if he would be afforded nothing like the freedom he enjoys with Mexico or previously benefitted from at PSV.

Despite his struggles this season, there should be few concerns among interested clubs when it comes to Lozano’s technical capabilities; the pace, the turning speed and the eye for goal that made him such hot property just eight months ago will not have vanished. The worry will be over how heavily his confidence has been hit and how readily he can recover.

Rather than providing a platform from which he could further develop into one of European football’s most thrilling and effective forwards, Lozano’s move to Napoli has turned into the first serious bump in the road of his career. If his departure is inevitable, his next step must be even more carefully chosen than his last.