Finally, Hirving Lozano’s name is out of the rumor mill section of Europe’s newspapers and soccer sites like this one.
The Mexico star’s departure from PSV felt like such a foregone conclusion, and nearly all of the reported destinations were reasonable. What team couldn’t use a quick, technically gifted winger?
Then, Lozano was just left hanging, still in Eindhoven, still suiting up for PSV as the Dutch side tried to get into the Champions League. It was even a bit of a surprise to still see him in the red-and-white stripes after the 2018 World Cup.
After all, he’d hired Mino Raiola as his agent, and not many players bring him on board before a major tournament and then stay put. That’s what Lozano did, though.
However, this summer, Raiola got to work and arranged a €42 million (£38.5m/$47m) transfer to Napoli that has made Lozano PSV’s record sale.
It’s the right move at the right time, too.
Lozano is ready to take a jump, and another year in the Netherlands wouldn’t have made much sense.
Now, he can challenge himself week-in and week-out against top-class competition, just like he did last season when PSV had the misfortune of drawing Barcelona, Inter and eventual finalists Tottenham in their Champions League group.
There will be pressure. That sort of price tag will always generate a level of expectation. Those who follow Mexican football will know the kind of pressure he’s already faced from El Tri supporters, but the Napoli tifosi are a demanding bunch too.
Still, he’s more likely to become a crowd favorite, rather than an object of fan frustration.
As Lozano’s star has continued to rise, the Pachuca product has remained the same. He married young, had two kids and seems to work hard at not causing any trouble for anyone that isn’t a member of the opposing defense.
Indeed, opponents are not fond of him. Lozano’s transition from Mexico, where he was the most fouled player, to European football was interesting to watch.
He started fighting back, suddenly becoming a red-card risk as he sparred with defenders he felt came in with the intent to get more than the ball.
But like most things in his career, it didn’t take Lozano much time to adapt. He learned what he could get away with and became a smarter player in the process. During his time in the Eredivisie, only Luuk de Jong (40 goals) scored more than Lozano (34) during his two-year stay.
Maybe some El Tri fans will be upset. It’s not the move to Manchester City, Manchester United or Paris Saint-Germain that many were craving. Nor is it a switch to Barcelona to play with Lionel Messi, the world’s best player – something Lozano admitted he’d dreamed about.
But so what? Those critics are the same ones who would be assuring you that Lozano’s career would take a nosedive were he fighting for playing time alongside megastars at those clubs.
Instead, he could slot right into the starting XI of a Champions League-caliber team still looking up at Juventus but with plenty of quality to mount a challenge to teams in the Champions League and perhaps make a charge at a tournament like the Coppa Italia.
Lozano comes into an attack with other weapons to work with like Lorenzo Insigne and Arkadiusz Milik. Behind him, he’ll have a defense anchored by one of the world’s best center backs in Kalidou Koulibaly.
Most importantly, he’ll be getting regular guidance from Carlo Ancelotti. The veteran coach has seen a who’s who of attacking talent develop under his watch, at AC Milan, Chelsea, PSG, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich.
Working with a manager with that sort of resume is the stratosphere Lozano now finds himself in. Not that it should be too big of a stage for Lozano. It was time for “Chucky” to leave behind the Eredivisie and move into one of the world’s top four leagues.
Mexico manager Tata Martino has seen several players leave those ranks since his arrival in January. It will be a boost to have a player like Lozano competing for a club team in the upper-echelon.
“He’s one of the most dangerous Mexican players in the world,” Martino told Goal before the World Cup, using the word ‘ desequilibrante ‘ to describe a player who creates issues for opposing defenders.
“I’d actually say he’s one of the most dangerous wingers in the world.”
Now he’s in a league full of talented attackers like Cristiano Ronaldo – and with a fair amount of top-class defenders as well.
Those defenders are better than the ones he’s faced in the Netherlands, and for the first time in his career Lozano will regularly be coming up against teams whose game plan centers on defending well. It will be a challenge, but it’s one for which he should be prepared.
Martino doesn’t throw around compliments like that without a fair amount of backing, and we’ve seen what Lozano can do on some of the world’s biggest stages.
Now, we finally get to see him on those stages more often, with talented players around him, a great coach guiding him and an opportunity to earn plenty of playing time.
Lozano’s fit with Napoli looks like it will be worth the wait.
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