To a certain extent, Christian Maggio’s career shouldn’t really exist in its current guise.
For one thing, his best position was defunct only a few years ago. Wing-backs, after all, seemed as lost to the mid-90s as Coventry’s Premier League status and Ajax’s chances of winning the Champions League.
And, although always promising, it wasn’t until his new club Napoli remarkably reverted to three in defence that Maggio started to accelerate in every sense. Indeed, he arguably overtook his club.
Because, over the last month, Napoli got a glimpse of what life could be like if Maggio’s career didn’t exist in its current guise.
Often, an individual player’s influence is either overstated or only inferred. Maggio’s, however, can be measured in hard facts.
Twenty-five minutes into the Champions League last 16 second leg at Chelsea and Napoli were still 3-1 ahead from the first game and fourth in the league, having won five games in a row. Many rightly believed that such form would fire them past Roberto Di Matteo’s team and into the latter stages of the continental competition before securing the third-place Serie A finish that would return them to Europe next season.
Then, Maggio pulled up with an ankle injury, Ramires surged past him and Didier Drogba struck back for Chelsea. From there, the Italian went off, Napoli went out and their form dropped dramatically. Without Maggio for the next month, they only picked up two points from five games.
By his full return against Novara on Apr 21, Napoli were six points off third and sinking. They promptly won three of the next four to leap back into the race.
Not that he’s perfect mind. Maggio was off his game at Bologna yesterday and it played havoc with Napoli’s system as they lost 2-0.
How can one player prove so important? And particularly one who, for all his recent effect, hasn’t exactly been renowned, despite the fact he is already 30?
Well part of the reason is Napoli’s idiosyncratic — and anachronistic — formation. Based on a counter-attacking game, it can’t really function without players who can very quickly go from defence to attack. And Maggio excels at that. So much so that he is one of the main hinges in the entire formation.
Robust and industrious in defence, Maggio is still alert enough to always spot opportunities to burst forward.
A perfect example came in his team’s away game against Manchester City in the Champions League group stage. Gareth Barry miscontrolled in midfield only for Maggio to immediately pounce and then pound forward like a high-speed train to set up Edinson Cavani’s opener.
Because of the dimension that gives his team, his agent has spoken about how Maggio occupies a “special position” while Napoli manager Walter Mazzarri says that “nobody has the characteristics he possesses”.
The club’s former coach Emiliano Mondonico, however, went even further.
“Maggio is one of the best wing-backs in Italy and reminds of Giacinto Facchetti.”
That’s exceptionally high praise given that Facchetti is one of Italy’s truly legendary defenders and Maggio hasn’t really yet had an international career to speak of. He only made his debut at 26 in March 2008 and his only appearance at the 2010 World Cup was as a second-half substitute in Italy’s woeful 3-2 defeat to Slovakia.
But all of that is starting to change.
Indeed, much of Maggio’s moderate beginnings can be put down to the very fact he didn’t truly have a position. Although he had been highly rated at youth level for Italy, it was only when he was encouraged to roam forward on the right in Sampdoria’s 2007-08 season that he started to make people take notice.
Of course, it’s from that position that he’ll also likely start for Italy at Euro 2012. But then can Maggio even be called a right-back there?
When you look at his average position across matches for the national team, he tends to spend most of them in line with the central midfielders and frequently ventures much further forward than the left-back.
It’s not just Maggio’s movement that causes problems though. There’s also his exceptional leap at set-pieces and his finishing. In that 2007-08 campaign, Maggio hit a goal every three games and followed for Napoli in 2009-10 with a strike against Livorno that was compared to Marco van Basten’s famous Euro 88 volley.
Certainly, he will offer a few outlets if Italy are struggling to break down Ireland. Don’t be surprised to see Maggio breaking through from deep.
For a player whose career may not have been as prosperous had he been born a few years earlier, he’s highly likely to make his presence felt.
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