Allan: Napoli's long-unheralded midfield dynamo
There are certain players who rarely get the praise they merit. Either by virtue of position or style, such talents are often overlooked while top stars are celebrated. Allan Marques Loureiro leads this category in Italy's Serie A.
When Napoli appointed Maurizio Sarri in June 2015, replacing Rafael Benitez, it was clear the club was heading for a new era. Not the most decorated manager, cobwebs permeated his trophy cabinet. The Italian lacked the pedigree, failing to cut it at the highest level as a player. Yet Napoleons envisaged beautiful football returning to the Stadio Sao Paolo.
Sarri showcased an attractive brand at Empoli. He had proved his knack for possession, with quick, progressive passing, dizzying attacks and often an impenetrable backline. The former banker developed a bias for a 4-3-1-2 system that moved from compact defence to expansive offence. His central midfield trio was crucial to the way his team played. Playmaker Mirko Valdifiori was supported by two hard-working, dynamic midfielders on each side.
To execute a similar template at Napoli, Sarri needed three flexible men in the middle. Thankfully, he inherited two: Marek Hamsik and Jorginho. Both were gifted in their own way albeit lacked the extra fuel during long hauls. They were too lightweight to shore up a leaky central midfield with a tendency to be overrun.
At £10.3 million from Udinese, Allan was Sarri's most expensive recruit that summer. It proved money well spent. There were three goals and five assists during the Brazilian's first season, but more importantly, he racked up 109 successful tackles. Only Atalanta's Marten de Roon made more in Serie A.
It was Allan's ability to stabilise things that stiffened Partenopei at the back. He brought along defensive nous. From conceding 54 league goals in Benitez's final campaign in charge, Allan cut a dozen. While his cohorts got all the plaudits, he was overlooked.
Allan was something of a catalyst for Napoli. His presence enhanced others. None benefited as much as Jorginho, though. The Rio de Janeiro-born midfielder suppied graft to complement the Italian's craft. His intensity was invaluable. While he had the ability to drive at the opposition with the ball at feet, his work ethic, doggedness and resilience were all priceless assets.
Under Carlo Ancelotti this season, Allan has added several dimensions to his game. He's continued to perform consistently, as well as show industry, but never looked more assured on the ball. Often driving forward with poise and power, he is inclined more than ever to take on defenders. It's a huge progression in his skillset.
Despite starting just nine league matches, Allan leads Serie A in tackles made. Fearless to lodge himself into stakes, his confidence level is at an all-time high. For possession won in the midfield third, he ranks among the best in the whole of Europe.
Allan has always excelled as a ball-winner, though. In 2012/13, his first campaign in Italy's top flight, he played a crucial role to help Francesco Guidolin’s Udinese shock the country by finishing fifth. Two seasons later, the 27-year-old led in tackles won by a large margin.
Now more than ever, Allan is earning the plaudits that long eluded him. Perhaps, Jorginho’s exit to Chelsea subdued the scourge.
Allan was handed his Brazil debut in a friendly victory over Uruguay during the last international break. It arrived eight years after he represented the U20s. The Napoli ace is also being lined up for a big-money Premier League move. In England, he may gain the recognition his craft deserves.