When Marek Hamšík was substituted off in the 74th minute against Sampdoria in February, something did not seem right. The Slovak was taking longer than usual to go off the pitch, applauding every corner of the majestic Stadio San Paolo as if it was the last time he would have this opportunity.
As it turns out, it was. The Slovakian had agreed on a move in principle to join Dalian Yifang in China and the day which no Napoli fan ever wanted to arrive, dawned upon them. After 11 wonderful years in Naples, Marek Hamšík’s love affair with the Partenopei came to an end.
No Napoli player has made more appearances than Marek Hamšík and no other player has scored more goals for them either. 521 appearances and 121 goals, surpassing a certain Diego Maradona in the latter list, Hamšík etched his name in the Napoli history books and his name will not be forgotten easily. A true legend in the city of Naples, the 32-year-old embodies everything fans love in a professional football player.
When it all started
Richard Hamšík had waited for a long time now. His son Marek was doing extremely well for Jupie Podlavice but Sparta Prague, who had shown an interest in signing the 15-year-old, were taking too long to conclude a deal. Marek had other offers, one being from Slovan Bratislava but they couldn’t afford the 5,000 euros his current club was demanding for his services. Richard took matters into his own hands and sold the family car to raise the money for his son to be able to play for Slovan. And thus, young Marek embarked on a remarkable journey.
2 years later, Hamšík was on the move again and this time, it was 800 kilometres away from his home rather than 212 – Brescia, where he moved one step closer to becoming a professional. Moving to a new country is never easy, but Hamšík felt right at home when he moved to Italy due to the warmth and gratitude he experienced from the Brescian locals. He was getting invited to his friends’ homes for dinners and everyone living around him wanted to make the then 17-year-old Slovak feel at home.
After getting promoted back to Serie A in 2007, Napoli turned their attentions to Hamšík. Club president Aurelio de Laurentiis was quick to spend 5.5 million euros for the midfielder stating that Hamšík was one to keep an eye out for.
Hamšík’s debut season at the San Paolo couldn’t have gone any better. The former Napoli man scored 9 goals in his debut season, more than anyone else, en route to helping Napoli achieve an impressive 8th placed finish in their first season back in the top flight, quickly becoming one of the first names on the team sheet in the process.
Marek Hamšík is a born midfielder and claims to be inspired by Pavel Nedved and Zinedine Zidane. He has been playing in midfield for every side he has ever turned out for since he was 7 years old. A tireless metronome capable of playing as no.10 or a no.8, his vision, agility, passing and eye for goal were undoubtedly his best qualities as a player.
“I wanted to sign him the first time I saw him train – head up, two feet, clever passing and an understanding of where to be on the pitch. He came with his grandfather. I told him it was a promising performance and it would be nice to have one more look at him, but I knew already I wanted him in my team.” – Igor Bôbik, Hamšík’s youth coach at Slovan
Naples – A new home
Let’s go back a few years. It is 2012, Napoli are leading by a single goal in the Coppa Italia final against Juventus at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome after Edinson Cavani had converted from the spot to give them the lead. This win would give the Partenopei their first piece of silverware in over 25 years, the stakes were as high as they could be. Juventus are piling on the pressure, and come close to getting an equaliser twice. But when the clock hits the 83rd minute, Napoli are on the counter-attack. Goran Pandev takes the ball in a central position and plays it through for a spiky-haired midfielder wearing the no.17 on the back of his shirt. He takes a touch and slots it in coolly past Storari to make it 2-0 and put the game beyond doubt. Marek Hamšík had just given an entire generation of Napoli fans their first piece of silverware.
Hamšík had already put in some memorable performances before the Coppa Italia final. That he became a fan favourite after the game would be an unfair assessment to make. In 2011, Hamšík helped Napoli earn qualification from a very tough Champions League group comprising of Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Villareal. He set up Gokhan Inler and scored the second goal in the decider against Villareal, to seal their spot in the next round
Marek Hamšík was leading the team and dominating on a regular basis at Stadio San Paolo till 2014 came around. After Paolo Cannavaro left Napoli to join Sassuolo in 2014, Marek Hamšík was given the captain’s armband on a permanent basis by manager Rafa Benitez.
Hamšík was never really a vocal leader but his performances and his grit and determination set a precedent for other players to follow. The Slovak played each game as if it was his last whenever he donned the blue colours in Naples and that represents the type of player, and human, he really is.
“I don’t understand why the media don’t write more about him; he’s a great footballer, a marvellous player. He is certainly among the best in the world in his position and a real pleasure to play with.” – Allan, Napoli midfielder
The trio of Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamšík were very crucial for bringing Napoli to where they are right now. While 2 of them changed ships to Paris, Marek stayed, through the toughest of times. Mino Raiola had just helped his client, Zlatan Ibrahimovic join PSG and he wanted Hamšík to join the Swedish striker. The Slovak had just scored the winner in the Coppa Italia final against Juventus and Raiola wanted to sign Hamšík to help him move to the French capital but the Hamšík simply turned him down. A model professional, a loyal leader and a great player, such is the example that Marek Hamšík set for his teammates whenever he led his troops out for battle at the San Paolo.
The loyalty that Hamšík has shown for the Partenopei is unparalleled. The 32-year-old midfielder was linked with a move away from Naples in almost every summer window with Juventus, PSG, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United all rumoured to be interested in his services but Marek simply declined every offer he ever received. Although the most endearing fact about his loyalty is that he and his family have been robbed and threatened at gunpoint 3 times during his stay in Naples. Even after all of this, he stayed.
“I have everything I’ve ever needed in Naples, and in Italy. Football is important to me, and to be able to play for Napoli for 10 years has been one of the greatest honours of my life. But the reason I have stayed so long is about more than football. In Naples, I am part of a community — a family — that holds a very special place in my heart. I need to have more than just a paycheck and trophies. I need to feel something in my soul. Naples gave me that, and I am forever grateful. Thank you.” – Marek Hamšík, writing for The Players’ Tribune
While Marek Hamšík may never earn the title of “god” that Diego Maradona did, he certainly has earned a place in each and every Napoli fans’ hearts, in Naples and all around the world. Many pundits and column writers have always questioned Hamšík’s decision to stay in Naples even when times weren’t as pretty as they were towards the end of Maurizio Sarri’s spells, but that just speaks volumes about the type of man he is. Big-name players came and left, times got tough, results didn’t go to plan but Marek stayed, through thick and thin. Arguably the best 5.5 million euros Aurelio de Laurentis has ever spent.
Hamšík has done it all in Naples. He has played his heart out every time he stepped onto the grass at San Paolo, he has worn the captain’s armband, he has survived three different gunpoint threats and he has also scored more goals than anyone else for the Partenopei. It would be safe to conclude that Richard Hamšík does not regret the decision of selling the family car in order to secure a nice future for his son.
In the modern era of football where many players are driven by money and controlled by agents, Marek Hamšík’s love affair with Naples is a refreshing reminder that football still has a certain romance to it. And it always will.
Marek Hamšík joined Napoli a kid, became a man, and left a legend.
Written by Hrishikesh Dabir with inputs from Dhruv Chouhan.
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