After another season of failed title charges, the summer of 2022 signalled a real change for Napoli. Fans had prepared themselves for the departure of club captain and icon Lorenzo Insigne to the MLS and the contract expiry of all-time top goal scorer Dries Mertens, but what was really surprising to see was Kalidou Koulibaly swap light blue for a darker shade as he secured a move from Napoli to Chelsea.
Koulibaly had a year left in his deal with the Serie A side and he was an obvious pick to be the successor of Insigne as the new captain but Aurelio De Laurentiis’s new strategy practically meant that he felt that there needed to be a change in expectation of the team.
Earlier in the summer, there had been uproar from the Napoli faithful over the decision to essentially “lowball” their key players when it came to contract negotiations and ultimately this is what drove a player who once expressed his desire to retire with Napoli out of Naples coupled with his desire to win more trophies as he reaches the twilight of his career.
A departure of that size left a huge void to fill at the heart of the defence and many were wondering exactly how Napoli were going to fill that void. They reinvested the £35M they received from Chelsea for Koulibaly into Leo Ostigard as a backup centre back and their main target of the window, Kim Min-Jae. The South Korean international had his €18 million release clause activated by the Partenopei and De Laurentiis was quick to get this deal wrapped up with the likes of Rennes and Tottenham linked to the former Fenerbache man.
There would be obvious questions as to how quickly the new acquisition would acclimatise to the Italian league but it’s fair to say he’s taken to it like a duck to water. Everything that Napoli fans thought they’d sorely miss in Koulibaly has been encapsulated by Min-Jae and the stats thus far are a true reflection of why Napoli have started the season unbeaten.
In 7 Serie A games so far this season, Kim Min-Jae has averaged 1.9 tackles, 1.4 interceptions, 1.3 blocks and a huge 5.6 clearances. He is a no-nonsense type of centre back who, like his predecessor, is always on the front foot. This allows him to read opposition plays and time his moves perfectly to either clear the ball away from danger or intercept a potential dangerous attack and alleviate pressure from the Napoli defence.
His celebration after his last-ditch block in stoppage time in their win against reigning champions Milan is the embodiment of a player who is willing to put it all on the line. He has formed a formidable partnership with Amir Rrhamani as they boast the 3rd best defence in the league so far. Kim Min-Jae has also proven to be an offensive threat too, especially from set pieces where he has already scored 2 this season and is sure to find himself in a plethora of opportunities to add to that tally.
After a summer of hefty departures, Napoli have truly had a whirlwind start to the season. They are top of the Serie A, top of their Champions League group and generally playing some of their best football in recent memory. We can talk about Zambo Anguissa, we can talk about Khvicha Kvaratskhelia but Kim Min-Jae might just be the determining factor as Napoli seek to capture their first Scudetto.
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / @GabFoligno / DeFodi Images