Jake Cohen

Jake Cohen is a lawyer who writes about legal and financial issues in soccer.

The Italian club is one of the most successful aggregators of talent in Europe

Yesterday I wrote about Feyenoord, which has 11 former and current players on the Dutch World Cup Squad. Like Feyenoord, Napoli seems to punch above its weight in terms of representation at the World Cup, but the club goes about it in an entirely different way.

Napoli’s quest to build a successful team has led them far beyond Naples. The Italian club has purchased players from all over the world, and currently finds itself with one of the most diverse squads on the planet.

No club had players competing on more squads in the World Cup when the tournament started than Napoli, which had 15 players competing for 10 different countries, not including Pepe Reina, who was with the club on loan from Liverpool last season. From Gonzalo Higuaín’s winning goal against Belgium to send Argentina through to the semi-finals and Eduardo Vargas’ excellent play for Chile to the Swiss trifecta of Gökhan Inler, Valon Behrami, and Blerim Džemaili, Napoli’s players have made a significant impact on the pitch. In fact, nine of the ten countries with a Napoli player made it out of the group stage, with only Italy and Lorenzo Insigne going home early.

While Chelsea has more players competing overall, with 17 different players, Chelsea’s players “only” competed for eight different squads. Similarly, Bayern Munich had fifteen different players competing for nine countries. Manchester United had fourteen players on nine different squads, Real Madrid had twelve players on seven, Barcelona had twelve players on five, and Manchester City had eleven on eight.

So how has Napoli become such a hub of global talent? It was just ten years ago the club went bankrupt. So dire was the club’s financial situation that a writer on UEFA’s website proclaimed that, “like the murder in the Gabriel García Márquez novel Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the declaration of bankruptcy by SSC Napoli did not take many by surprise.” When UEFA is openly making cheeky literary jokes at your expense, you know your club’s in trouble.

The team was knocked down to Serie C, and after Naples native Aurelio De Laurentiis stepped in to buy the club, began the slow march back to prominence. Napoli clawed its way back to Serie A for the start of the 2007–08 season, and has remained there ever since. In 2011, the club earned a Champions League spot for the first time, and has qualified for Europe’s premier competition in three of the last four years (including the upcoming 2014–15 season)—no small feat, especially when you consider that Italy was bumped down to just three Champions League spots in 2012.

In addition to De Laurentiis stepping up financially, much of the credit for Napoli’s success is due to sporting director Ricardo Bigon’s clever scouting, which has seen the club scour the globe for players.

While Napoli is now the fifth-largest club in Serie A in terms of annual revenues (behind Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan, and Roma) and the twenty-second largest club in the world (having earned around £93m during the 2013 financial year), only a few clubs have the resources to build a truly global scouting network (AC Milan, for example, generated the tenth-most revenues in the world during FY2013 and earned £211m, more than twice Napoli’s earnings).

For perspective, the closest clubs to Napoli in terms of annual revenues are VfB Stuttgart, Valencia, and Corinthians. Valencia has six players competing in the World Cup for four different nations. Stuttgart has three players competing for three different nations, and Corinthians’ lone contribution is Uruguay’s Nicolás Lodeiro, who only just signed with the club last month.

Napoli, however, is committed to investing significant resources into expanding its already wide reach. De Laurentiis wants to buy a satellite club and has made it a priority to expand the club’s brand not only within Italy but also in England, Brazil, and the United States. With Napoli’s ever-growing scouting network and with the financial backing of De Laurentiis, expect to see Napoli well-represented in future World Cups.

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