Allan, Napoli, and Beautiful Football

This season, Napoli has often been called the most beautiful club side to watch in all of Europe. Exciting neutrals with quick, progressive passing, dizzying attacks, and often impenetrable defense, it’s no surprise Pep Guardiola had such glowing words about Sarri’s unit after their October Champions League clash. “We faced one of the best sides I faced in my career – probably the best,” exclaimed Guardiola. “It is one of the wins I am most proud of in my career.”

To recognize the beauty in Maurizio Sarri’s football, it is crucial to take a step further and acknowledge the contribution of Allan, the Brazilian central midfielder, as equally beautiful. It’s time to recognize our midfield dynamo as one of the pivotal components of the system, and a huge part of why it’s a beautiful one to begin with.

It may be curious to label a player, so often praised for his crunching tackles, physical aura, and tenacity as a box-to-box midfielder as “beautiful” – but hear me out. It’s easy to fall into the trap of typecasting players and viewing them through a narrow lens. A visceral playmaker like Hamšík can be lauded for his line breaking passes, yet curiously overlooked when it comes to praising his work-rate and defensive contributions. When it comes to Allan and his abilities, he’s no different. Allan’s come a long way since joining Napoli.

Allan has always excelled as a ball-winner. In 2012-13, his first season in Italy, he was a key component of Guidolin’s Udinese side that shocked the country, finishing 5th place in Serie A. Two seasons later, in 2014-15, Allan led Serie A in tackles won by a large margin. The following season, he made the switch to Napoli as one of Sarri’s first signings.

In the last year or two, Allan has added dimensions to his game, more apparent than ever this season. He’s continued with his consistent and industrious performances, but he’s never looked quite as assured on the ball as he does now. Often driving the ball forward with poise and power, Allan is more inclined than ever to take on defenders – a huge progression in his skillset. It’s likely his most unnoticed feature by neutrals.

Furthermore, his work off the ball is as important as when he has possession. Allan’s a press-machine and appears to have improved his stamina exponentially this term. In the past, he’s had difficulty keeping up this explosive style for the full 90 minutes, but hasn’t faced the same struggles this time around.

If there are deficiencies to Allan’s game, they’re minor. He won’t hit 10 goals and 10 assists this season (though he has matched his best ever goal return halfway through the season). He’s not going to supply forwards with dazzling chances each game like Insigne. But he’s not expected to do so. He’s excelled at his role, often sparking devastating attacks with his ball winning, recycling of possession, and creativity. There’s an undeniable brilliance in his disciplined, dependable, and hard-working approach to the game.

To sum up Allan’s performances this season, look no further than his involvement in Hamšík’s record-setting goal vs Sampdoria on December 23rd. After some clever buildup play, Allan produced an astonishing bit of skill to find Mertens, who was able to set up Hamšík with an easy finish. Ultimately, Allan’s not the player credited with the goal, assist, or even the moment in the spotlight. But without him, we don’t have memorable moments such as this one.

As we’ve seen time and time again this season, there’s no substitute for the impact Allan makes when he’s in the XI. Allan’s contributions, on the ball and off, should be enough to turn even the most dedicated aesthetics purist into a fan. In order to fully appreciate Napoli and ‘Sarriball’, we must acknowledge the inherent beauty in our engine.

For additional reading on Allan, check out the piece by our friend @TiagoEstv from earlier this season:

By Aaron Gialanella 

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