In the midst of a rampant Neapolitan express, it is often the Victor Osimhens and the Khvicha Kvaratskhelias of the world who capture the headlines. But in the engine room of that express, baring a striking resemblance to Jesse Pinkman, is the 28-year-old Slovakian midfielder Stanislav Lobotka.
Rising from relative unknown to being one of Europe’s most impressive midfielders, Lobotka has had a meteoric rise to say the least. Standing tall at 5’5, he is the biggest little man in the league, and has bossed midfields across Italy all season long. In a way, Lobotka’s rise has been quite abrupt. Having come through injuries during previous managers, Rino Gattuso didn’t seem to trust the midfielder during his stint as Diego Demme was preferred over the former Celta Vigo man.
While he did become a starter last season and starred alongside Fabian Ruiz and André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, the Spaniard’s exit has allowed Lobotka’s performances to earn more attention. And it seems as if the little man has been around at the Partenopei for ages.
But his journey in football didn’t start in Naples. Instead, he started in his native Slovakia at AS Trenčín and in 2013, he joined Ajax. However, he returned to AS Trenčín in 2014 before venturing to Norway and FC Nordsjælland in 2015. Celta Vigo then snapped up the exciting talent in 2017 for just €5 million.
Lobotka is only in his second full season in Naples, joining in January 2020 for a fee of €21 million from Celta Vigo.
In terms of a profile, Lobotka is primarily a defensive midfielder, this can be seen by his lack of attacking stats, only scoring one and assisting one this season in 21 games.
Lobotka is widely defined as a ball winner in the press and amongst footballing academics, however he is so much more than that. When playing out from the back, Napoli tend to set up with three, with Lobotka sitting in front of two centre backs, and usually one fullback too.
It is often due to Lobotka’s elite ball carrying, close control and quick feet that Napoli can quickly evade their opposition’s first line of defence and the opposition’s press, exposing spaces for the dangerous attack to take advantage of. This excellent progression can be seen through his stats, with 24 progressive carries and 95 progressive passes completed in just 19 90s this season.
When compared to his positional peers (Top 5 leagues, UCL, UEL) Lobtoka can be seen to excel in his passing accuracy, ranking in the 99th percentile for pass completion rate. Passes attempted has also been a huge outlier and it demonstrates how centred the Napoli system is on Lobotka.
Through looking at his stats, it is easy to see why Luciano Spalletti is enamoured by the tiny Slovakian. His all round game makes him possibly one of Europes most complete midfielders.
It would be easy to say that a high value move awaits him, but at Napoli right now there probably isn’t a better club in world football.
However, don’t be surprised to see a race for his signature come July.