“I’m not giving anything to him,” said Napoli coach Gennaro Gattuso following the 6-0 win against Genoa at the beginning of the season. “He’s a different player now, he’s got great strength in his legs, and doesn’t fall to the ground like a kid when he gets kicked.”
The player Gattuso is referring to is Hirving Lozano. The Mexican had started the season brightly, and the notoriously hard-to-please Gattuso was effusive in his praise for Lozano.
Lozano's upturn in fortunes this season is in sharp contrast to his majorly disappointing first season in Naples. The winger arrived as Napoli's most expensive player in their history, having signed from PSV Eindhoven for a fee in the region of €42m.
The Mexican struggled in his first season in Serie A. Now facing more robust defending than what he was accustomed to in the Eredivise, Lozano endured great difficulty in influencing games, he would perpetually go to ground under even the most fleeting of touches. His actions didn't endear him to not just his opponents, but also to his teammates.
Through no fault of his own, Lozano had also entered into a tempestuous dressing room at Napoli. There were rumblings about the high salary the then 23-year-old was earning, supposedly in the €5m range, which was a lot higher than mainstays like Jose Callejon, Dries Mertens and Allan.
Napoli's dressing room was cliquey, and there was no place for a newcomer earning substantially more money than most in the locker room. Lozano's inability to speak Italian also did him no favours in the beginning. Carlo Ancelotti, who had wanted Lozano at the club, left shortly after his arrival, in the aftermath of the player 'mutiny' that took place in November 2019 following a Champions League game.
It seemed like Lozano's stay at the club wouldn't last past the season. He ended 2019/20 with five goals in all competitions. Not exactly the kind of return the club expected from their hefty investment.
However, several issues seemingly cleared up over night that salvaged his future at the club: Gattuso wasn't ready to give up on him. Seeing his enormous potential, the former midfielder wanted to toughen Lozano up, and told him to stay on his feet during matches.
Callejon left the club, and so Lozano inherited his position on the right-hand side of Gattuso's 4-2-3-1 system, as opposed to slugging it out with Neapolitan-born Lorenzo Insigne for a starting berth in Ancelotti's 4-4-2 system. Furthermore, the club signed Victor Osimhen from Lille in a €70m deal, and with wages higher than even Lozano's. This took the burden off of the slender-framed Mexican, who was no longer the club's record signing.
Additionally, the player also started learning Italian, and could now communicate with his teammates, on and off the pitch.
The player's transformation has been remarkable. He's netted nine times in Serie A this season, with three in the Coppa Italia and one in the Europa league. Lozano has now firmly cemented himself on the right, and is one of the first names on Gattuso's name sheet.
His ability to beat players in individual battles is a key component of Gattuso's Napoli. Moreover, his ability to ghost in behind the line of defenders, much in the same manner as Callejon did for years, has proved to be a high source of goals for Napoli this season.
Injury has ruled the player out for the next month, a big blow for Gattuso in what has been a catastrophic start to 2021.
Such has been the turnaround of fortunes at the club, that when Napoli were preparing to face Juventus several weeks ago, every member of the team was booed by fans outside the hotel the club were staying in, except for two players: Osimhen, and Lozano.