Jose Callejon – Serie A’s best signing of the last decade?

Recall the scene: Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne would receive the ball down on the left hand channel of the opponent’s half. Insigne would take several touches, cut inside and delicately float a beautifully weighted diagonal pass behind the opposition defence and into the stride of Jose Callejon on the right hand side, who’d timed his run impeccably.

Callejon would either take one of two options: he’d instantly kill the ball with his first touch and shoot at goal, or roll it across for Napoli’s central striker to tap it in. Throughout the Maurizio Sarri era, this scenario played out seemingly two or three times a game, with a goal usually the end result.

Indeed, it was such a familiar sight for so many years that it almost became part of the Italian football landscape. Even now, you still half expect it to happen when Insigne cuts inside.

Should the Spaniard play against Lazio on the final day of the Serie A season, we may just see that darting run one last time. After seven years of immaculate service to the southerners, Callejon looks increasingly set to say goodbye. Talks over a contract extension broke down months ago, with neither side willing to compromise on their demands.

There is a strong argument to be made that Callejon has been pound-for-pound the best Serie A signing of the last decade. Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find a signing that had provided as much value for money. Bought by Napoli at the start of the Rafa Benitez era for an estimated €10m from Real Madrid, the winger hasn’t missed a single game through injury during his spell in Italy, an astonishing level of physical consistency.

Callejon was a mainstay throughout the Benitez, Sarri and Carlo Ancelotti reigns, and featured in every league game in three of his first five seasons, and only missing a single game in the other campaigns due to suspension. Furthermore, Callejon showed remarkable consistency in finding the back of the net; he reached double figures in five out of his seven seasons with Napoli in all competitions. His peak arguably came in Sarri’s second season, when Callejon was directly involved in 32 of Napoli’s goals (in all competitions) in 2016/17 as they finished third in Serie A. He’s registered 82 goals and 78 assists in total for the Partenopei.

From a physical point of view, Callejon’s lithe frame seemingly goes against the laws of science. He was never injured (indeed, the only game he missed not through suspension was due to a fever), never suffered from fatigue, and was always dependable, very rarely underperforming. In many aspects, Callejon was the living embodiment of consistency.

Callejon sits fifth in the club’s all-time record appearance list, with 347 games in all competitions – currently tied with Insigne – and one suspects that his 348th and final game will be an emotional one. As a mark of respect for the club, and due to the unprecedented nature of the season, Callejon – those contract expired at the end of June – has been playing the remainder of Napoli’s season free of charge. Further to this, Callejon has agreed not to sign for another club until Napoli’s season officially ends.

The Spaniard has been linked with a return home. Rumours in recent weeks have touted a reunion with former Napoli defender Raul Albiol at Villarreal. Callejon may be 33, but with his unnervingly perfect injury record, he can still offer plenty at the highest echelons of the game, and those impeccably timed runs will be missed by not just fans of the Partenopei, but by lovers of Serie A.

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