Ezequiel Ivan Lavezzi: Napoli's signing of the century

Now with Napoli and drawing comparisons with boyhood hero Diego Maradona, Lavezzi was ready to pack the game in as a 17 year-old to become an electrician. The teenage Lavezzi had dreamed of playing for hometown club Rosario Central, but his career wasn't going the way he wanted and while with little Coronel Aguirre, he chose to shelve football and begin an electrician apprenticeship.

An offer from Argentine second division club Estudiantes convinced him to try again and within 18 months - and without having played any top-flight football - Lavezzi was snapped up by Genoa in 2004. His career finally appeared on track, but just as Genoa won promotion to Serie A, they were demoted to Serie C for financial irregularities and Lavezzi's hopes again were dashed as he was sent back to Argentina on-loan to San Lorenzo.

A year on, European dreams were on-hold as San Lorenzo took advantage of Genoa's money troubles to sign the attacker for a knockdown £1 million.

Not that Lavezzi was complaining. After so much upheaval in his career, he was able to put down some roots at San Lorenzo and found a great mentor in coach Ramon Diaz, the former Inter Milan and Napoli striker, who quickly recognised the rare talent he had on his hands.

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"Lavezzi is a phenomenon," said Diaz before he oversaw his sale to Napoli. "He's the strongest young player in Argentina. I assure you. I coached him and I know how much he is worth."

It was the old Napoli network that won the Serie A new-boys Lavezzi's signature over the summer. Diaz made it no secret that he wanted his protege to move to his old club: "For those Neopolitans who are unsure, I'm ready to send them a DVD of Lavezzi in action to convince them!"

Jorge Cyterszpiler, Maradona's former manager, also took up Lavezzi's case and with Diaz worked on convincing Napoli sports director Pierpaolo Marino to take a chance on the 22 year-old. Cyterszpiler's relationship with Marino was crucial, having become close to the director while he was Maradona's teammate 20 years ago.

Diaz remains Lavezzi's biggest fan. While many coaches would complain about losing their prime player, Diaz is happy to see Lavezzi's career finally moving forward after so many setbacks in his teenage years.

"He just needs a little time to adjust," said Diaz before this season kicked off. "Soon, Napoli will see they've made the signing of the century. I guarantee it! El Pocho is a phenomenon. He has the three fundamental ingredients needed to be a great player - physical, tactical and technical. He's top of the tree in all three."

In the early weeks of the season, Diaz will be delighted that Lavezzi has proved him wrong over needing time to adjust to Italian football. A hat-trick in the Coppa Italia victory over Pisa had the press gushing, it was the first treble by a Napoli in over fourteen years. He also hit the mark in the league, capping off a superb individual performance to score in Napoli's stunning 5-0 win at Udinese.

The Maradona comparison quickly followed, but Lavezzi, like so many others who have overcome setbacks in their junior careers, is staying humble and grounded.

He's already an idol for Napoli fans, but Lavezzi says: "The Maradona comparison is an exaggeration. The word idol is too much for me. Diego is Diego and remains No1. I can only work on giving happiness and joy to the people of Naples.

"Everything that has come to me so far is thanks to my teammates. I hope there is more to come. We're only two weeks into the season, it's too soon to make judgments."

Perhaps, but given his wonderful start, Diaz's prediction that Lavezzi will become Napoli's "signing of the century" is looking more genuine by the week.

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