Why Napoli Might Want Tottenham’s Alex Pritchard

NAPLES, ITALY - APRIL 19: Head coach of Napoli Maurizio Sarri looks on during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Bologna FC at Stadio San Paolo on April 19, 2016 in Naples, Italy. (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
NAPLES, ITALY - APRIL 19: Head coach of Napoli Maurizio Sarri looks on during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Bologna FC at Stadio San Paolo on April 19, 2016 in Naples, Italy. (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images) /

Serie A seems to have been added to the list of possible destinations for Tottenham academy product Alex Pritchard.

Napoli are linked with a move for the 23-year-old midfielder according to Sky Sports. Should the rumors be true, it might represent a chance at redemption for Pritchard.

It’s been quite a lopsided year for Pritchard. Coming into last summer, he was one of Tottenham’s hottest prospects. The 2014/15 season was spent on loan with Championship side Brentford, and the English midfielder was a key part of the side’s surprise bid for a second consecutive promotion.

His 12 goals and seven assists that season meant that he returned to Tottenham as a likely candidate to be the next youngster promoted to the first team by Mauricio Pochettino. Many speculated — here at HotspurHQ and elsewhere — that Pritchard was the natural successor to Christian Eriksen, a crisp and energetic playmaker that would fit well inside Pochettino’s system.

An ankle injury sustained during time with England’s under-21 side over the summer ruled Pritchard out of Pochettino’s plans for the first half of the 2015/16 campaign. Healthy, Pritchard might have expected to start in Europa League and Capital One Cup matches, thereby building up minutes with Tottenham and earning a bigger role.

Instead, by the time he returned to full fitness, there simply wasn’t a place for him in the squad. Pochettino and the powers that be elected to instead again send Pritchard out on loan, this time to Tony Pulis’ West Bromwich Albion.

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The loan move was a strange one given the sizable difference between Pochettino and Pulis’ styles, and it’s no surprise that Pritchard barely got a look into the West Brom team for the duration of his loan.

With his status in relative limbo, it’s no surprise that teams have come calling for him. Regardless of his lost year last season, his performance with Brentford was stellar. Links to freshly relegated Newcastle and other sides in England are therefore no surprise.

This latest rumor suggesting some interest from Napoli comes is something more however. But for the rarest of exceptions, English players rarely agree to moves abroad. Language barriers, differences in style and other factors usual combine to make such transfers unattractive to both club and player.

That’s reason enough to doubt this Napoli link, but let’s look a bit deeper. Would it make sense for Pritchard to make a move to Naples?

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From the club’s perspective, yes. Though they eventually lost enough momentum toward the end of the season for both Juventus and Roma to overtake them in Serie A, coach Maurizio Sarri orchestrated a wonderful transformation at Napoli. He more or less completely revamped Rafa Benitez’s relatively dry style and tactics, instead preferring a dynamic and exciting 4-3-3 formation.

The most obvious benefactor of these changes was striker Gonzalo Higuaín, who scored a historic 36 goals in 35 matches. The real key to Sarri’s system came from deeper in midfield, however.

Longtime club veteran Marek Hamsik was pushed back from a more advanced role into central midfield, setting himself up as a sort of omnidirectional playmaker not too dissimilar from Eriksen at Tottenham. The transformation was as effective as it was dramatic. The Slovakian scored six goals and set up 11 assists over the course of the Serie A season.

The problem, from Napoli’s perspective, is twofold. One: Hamsik, his services never in higher demand, is hinting at leaving the club this summer. Two, even if he were to stay, the 28-year-old isn’t exactly a long-term solution for the club.

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Taking all that into account, Pritchard’s link with Napoli makes a lot more sense. For the amount Tottenham would likely ask for him, Napoli won’t find a better bargain to replace or at least supplement the loss of a player like Hamsik.

The real question then becomes: will Tottenham actually permanently part with Pritchard? The ascent of Dele Alli and even Josh Onomah suggests that the answer might be no. For all Tottenham knows, Pritchard might not be a good fit for the Premier League. With another title race set for next season and Champions League football on the menu, they might not have many opportunities to find out.