What now for Chucky? Lozano's dream move to Napoli has become a nightmare

Goal.com

When Hirving 'Chucky' Lozano signed for Napoli, he would have been dreaming of nights like the Coppa Italia final. It's those types of matches that brought him to Serie A and those types of moments that define a player's career.

After several years dominating both at PSV and with Mexico's national team, Lozano needed something bigger. And, when the Coppa Italia final ended, it ended in elation. Napoli, against all odds, had won, taking down Juventus in a shootout. It was the club's 10th-ever domestic trophy, and only its third since 1990.

For years, Napoli have been a contender but never a winner, and Lozano was brought in to be the type of player to change that. But, as Napoli raised that trophy, there likely wasn't much relief for Lozano. As the celebrations ensued, it's highly unlikely that the night looked like those he dreamed of when his big transfer went through.

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That hopefulness is all but gone, with the Mexican star's dream move to Naples much closer to a nightmare these days. Since Napoli's return to play following the outbreak of the coronavirus, Lozano has been an unused substitute in each of the club's three Coppa Italia matches.

It's a familiar trend for the 24-year-old winger, who has been glued to the bench since Gennaro Gattuso was hired in December, replacing Carlo Ancelotti. Lozano has started just one match since the former AC Milan midfielder took over and, since making his €42 million (£39m/$47m) move in August, Lozano has scored just three goals in 23 appearances.

But, in some ways, that's understandable.

There's always a natural feeling out process for players when they move to a new league, so a slow start isn't exactly odd. It's also totally normal to have to impress a new manager, especially one as fiery as Gattuso.

For a player like Lozano, who is so reliant on his pace and trickery to beat defenders out wide, a move from the free-flowing Eredivisie to the more defensive-oriented Serie A was always going to challenge him. It was one of the reasons he chose to come to Italy in the first place: to further his game under a legendary manager like Ancelotti.

"Napoli was always my first choice," he told reporters when he first signed with the club. "I'm pleased it all worked out. I'm really happy to be part of this group. We have a great team with top players.

"I'm a technical player and I'm fast. The coach will decide where to play me. I'll always give my all. I want to give my all for the team and the coach. I still have a lot to learn. I want to work hard and develop here.

"I know Serie A. The advice of Ancelotti will be key if I'm to do well. My team-mates have been very welcoming. I just need to work hard and give my all for the team."

The struggles are understandable, but the most frightening part of Lozano's career in recent months comes down to that last sentence: the "give my all for the team" part.

Ahead of the Coppa Italia final, Lozano was kicked out of Napoli training by Gattuso after being accused of not putting enough effort into the session. Since replacing Ancelotti in December, Gattuso hasn't shown a particular admiration of Lozano.

He's preferred the likes of Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon out wide, joking in February that he must be "persona non grata" in Mexico for his use of Lozano, or lack thereof.

Last week, Gattuso, famous for his energetic and aggressive mentality during his playing days at Milan, finally saw enough to make an example of the Mexican star. Quite simply, it appears he was fed up.

"Anyone who is tired, who doesn't feel like it, who isn't sharp mentally, as far as I am concerned, he can just stay in the locker room and miss a day of training," Gattuso told RAI after the incident.

"Everyone knows that if they step onto the field with me, they have to go at full speed. I won't allow anyone to ruin a training session."

 

Winning back the respect of Gattuso will be no easy feat and, as a result, Lozano's career is understandably at a crossroads. His move to Napoli, by all accounts, hasn't gone as planned for player or club. Ancelotti's departure was seemingly a turning point, and it's fair to wonder if there's a way back now that Lozano has drawn Gattuso's ire.

As a result, Lozano has been linked with several clubs in recent weeks, but any move for the Mexico star will be a difficult one in the current transfer climate. Given the price of his move last summer, Napoli won't be eager to lose their investment on the cheap, pricing out plenty of suitors for a move.

In a world where the coronavirus is making a massive impact on finances, how many clubs are able and willing to sign a player that has mustered just three goals this season? Apparently, there are a few.

Lozano has been linked with West Ham and Newcastle in recent weeks, with the Premier League perhaps the only place with clubs that have the financial muscle to complete a deal. More notably, there have been links with Ancelotti's Everton, a potential chance for Lozano to rebuild his career under the manager who originally signed him.

In perhaps the oddest option, Rafa Benitez has said that there have been talks regarding a potential swap deal with Napoli that would see Yannick Carrasco head to Serie A with his Chinese Super League club, Dalian, receiving Lozano in exchange.

A year ago, who could have imagined the Mexican star being used as a makeweight with a Chinese Super League side? It's not a scenario Lozano would have imagined himself just one year ago.

This move was supposed to push him towards the world-class level. It's done anything but. Instead, he's taken a step back, looking nothing like the player that scored 21 goals for PSV during his last campaign in the Netherlands.

From a Mexico point of view, there's reason to be concerned. Lozano has been Mexico's most important attacker for some time, although you could argue that Wolves' Raul Jimenez has now usurped him for that title. With World Cup qualifying around the corner, Gerardo 'Tata' Martino would no doubt like to count on a fit, confident Lozano.

By and large, Mexico should be more than fine as a team in the lead up to 2022, but a Mexico without a firing Lozano would almost certainly struggle against any of the world's top teams in Qatar. Lozano is Mexico's world-class star, the player that has the talent and ability to drag them to victory. He's proven himself to be the player that can change a game in an instant, even if that ability hasn't been on display in Serie A.

In one of those cruel twists of fate, Lozano's Coppa Italia "triumph" came two years to the day of his breakout. It was on June 17, 2018 that Lozano became a household name outside of North America. On that day in Moscow, Lozano's game-winning goal against Germany catapulted him into stardom, with that performance and that moment serving as the start of his rise.

Two years later, that rise has halted. He's been reduced to, at best, a bench role and, at worst, the status of a pariah. Lozano still has the talent and the ability to continue that rise, but doing so at Napoli may no longer be an option for a player that now finds himself at a career-defining crossroads.

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