Napoli Must Wake Up & Invest Significant Money Into Their Youth Academy

Napoli v Lecce
Napoli v Lecce | Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Antonio Di Natale, Ciro Immobile, Vincenzo Montella, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Sebastiano Esposito.

What do these five - from differing generations - have in common you ask?

Well, these are all players who were born in and around the Naples area - but went straight from one of the area's local amateur clubs to one of Italy's elite up north, completely bypassing Napoli. Sadly, they're not the first group to do so, nor will they be the last.

Gianluigi Donnarumma
Gianluigi Donnarumma was born close to Naples, but joined AC Milan at 14.ag | Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

On paper, Gli Azzurri should have an outstanding academy.

They are a one-club city - unlike Milan and Rome - and thus should have the pick of all best players from the Naples area. But they are also the out-and-out the biggest club in Campania (one of the most populous regions in Italy) with only Benevento making any sort of dent.

In theory, Napoli should be picking up the fresh new talent around Campania but the reality of what's happening is very different. Instead, the area has become a hotspot for the northern elite to extend their fishing net and scoop up unclaimed potential - but, why?

Stanislav Lobotka, Ciro Immobile
SSC Napoli v SS Lazio - Coppa Italia | Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

A large part of blame can, quite simply, be put down to Gli Azzurri's god-awful facilities. In a time when all of Europe's biggest clubs are spending mega bucks to create training complexes - like Roma and Juventus in Trigoria and Vinovo respectively - Napoli's Kennedy centre is an old, run-down complex built in 1968.

The club shares this facility with several other local amateur clubs, providing logistical nightmares for all concerned while offering literally no transport to players who are unable to make their way to and from training.

So when news broke this year that talented Napoli Under-15 forward Domenico Musella was upping sticks and signing for Roma, you begin to understand why there was little surprise.

Furthermore, Napoli's Primavera squad (Under-19s) don't have their own ground, and instead had an agreement with the local council to use a stadium in Frattamaggiore. But, now they don't - after local side Frattese Calcio informed Napoli they could not use the stadium any more.

Napoli's lack of investment in youth has opened up a vicious circle. They don't make any money from their academy - because they don't put any in - and consequently they are unable to poach players from elsewhere.

If we're honest, the only two success stories from the past 30 years or so are Fabio Cannavaro - who eventually earned the club £6.7m when he left in 1995 - and 29-year-old Lorenzo Insigne, who is currently one of Napoli's standout players.

What Napoli need is a constant supply chain, players who can be nurtured through the ranks and understand what it means to be Neapolitan. What they shouldn't be doing is shipping out local talents like Gennaro Tutino and Gianluca Gaetano - who were perhaps were capable - on loan, blooding them into the first team picture instead.

Another example of one that got away is young Antonio Troise - whose father Alessandro and two uncles, Francesco and Emanuele, came through Napoli's academy - after he opted to scarper and join title chasing Lazio.

Further evidence of Napoli's lack of interest in youth comes away from the field. On their website, there is no mention of a youth team setup. No fixtures, no results, no information on players or the coaching staff. Nothing. It's almost as if the Primavera side doesn't exist.

Fabio Cannavaro during the 1991/1992 season.
Fabio Cannavaro during the 1991/1992 season. | AFP/Getty Images

Yes, Napoli - this season aside - have been challenging for Serie A honours in recent years, but off the field they are far, far behind. Gli Azzurri don't have the financial muscle of a Juventus or Inter, but they wouldn't necessarily need to if they invested in their own. Funding infrastructure at root level is a pretty basic thing to get right.

Most strikingly, were you to create a Bilbao/Basque style XI from players from the Campania area, only Insigne would feature for Napoli - everybody else is dotted around the country and it's frankly rather embarrassing.

Napoli are a big, big club - remember the Maradona years for a reminder of that - and it's about time they saw sense and got their head in the youth academy game.