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Kim Min-jae Making Instant Impact With Napoli

South Korean international Kim Min-jae has made a huge impact with Serie A leaders SSC Napoli since joining in the summer with the club unbeaten in its first eight league matches of the season and coming off three consecutive victories to open the group stage of the UEFA Champions League.  Kim has turned more than a few eyebrows, winning Player of the Month honors for the month of September after a string of consistent performances.  How much further will he climb?  KLU's Branko Belan recounts the success of his opening spell in Italy.

Off to a Quick Start

Kim Min-jae has adjusted to life with his new club very quickly, as he has appeared in all but one match thus far this campaign, playing full minutes on the pitch every time he has started, with the only exception being when he was rested for the match against Spezia Calcio last month.  He has already scored twice this season, with his first coming in just his second appearance with his new club in a 4-0 drubbing of Monza, then providing a first half equalizer against SS Lazio in what would end up a 2-1 win on September 3rd.

Anticipation of his arrival was high and he has not disappointed, showing a depth of knowledge at his position, as he has already become a handful for opposing attackers to deal with.  Not one to look out of place, Kim has demonstrated the sort of fearless nature that made him a target for the club in the summer.  This was particularly on display in the match against AC Milan, in which he made a last-ditch effort to deny the Rossoneri an opportunity to salvage a point in the sixth minute of second half injury time.  Such have been the quality of his performances, that a certain someone who departed for the Premier League has already faded into the rearview mirror.

Koulibaly Already A Distant Memory

Only a few seasons ago, Kalidou Koulibaly had stressed his intention to retire with Napoli, and that the only way he could see himself playing somewhere else would depend on a financial decision by the club.  He certainly became a fixture for the Gli Azzurri, making over 300 appearances for the club across all competitions in eight seasons, contributing fourteen goals.  A strong, athletic, yet elegant footballer known for his aerial prowess, he was a fan favorite during his time in Naples, but his move to Chelsea has opened the door for Kim to shine.

Serie A has for decades produced some of the finest defenders in European football.  Former Inter Milan right back Giuseppe Bergomi, who spent his entire twenty year career with the Nerazzurri offered his assessment of Kim's addition to his new club.

Kim has played ninety minutes in all three of Napoli's Champions League wins thus far.
"We all had doubts about Kim after the talisman was gone.  I call him soldier boy, he's there and he never makes mistakes," he said, speaking of the South Korean.

"Maybe in the build-up, he is less strong than Koulibaly, but defensively he is more careful.  And that for a defender is very important.  A defender must always get [a] 6, [or] 6 and a half rating, he must never make mistakes.  He’ll also make mistakes, but that’s where there were the biggest doubts and this guy is doing well,” he concluded.

Such high praise from a man who played more than 500 matches in league play is certainly worthy of note.  The first sample size has brought excellent results and both Kim and the club and supporters look for that to continue as the season progresses.

Serie A Player of the Month

Kim was voted Serie A Player of the Month for September following his excellent showings, signaling his quick transition to a new league, a new club, new coaches, and new teammates.  He has meshed well with the group around him and has already established chemistry with central defense partner Amir Rrahmani, with the duo being a big reason why the leaders have only conceded six goals thus far in the division.

Having already scored twice in 2022, he has already drawn level with Lee Seung-woo, who played for Hellas Verona from 2017-19, leaving him just three behind Ahn Jung-hwan, who played for Perugia from 2000-02.  A known presence in the opponents' penalty area for set pieces, it would come as no surprise to see him add to his tally and even surpass the Korean legend, famous for knocking Italy out of the World Cup in 2002 when the Taeguk Warriors co-hosted with Japan, by season's end.

Spalletti and Scouting

Napoli's scouting apparatus was a big reason why the club were able to land Kim over the summer.

"We have a scouting system, the director of sport and his assistant who go to find out who is available on the market. It’s important to be ready to bring in players capable of replacing those who are taken away," he explained.

He also pointed out how it could be difficult for new players in the squad to adjust to a different style of play coming from a different league but that Kim and other additions in the summer window have done so with little difficulty.  He also points to Kim's willingness to adapt to the club's coaching methods as part of his early success.

"In training, he was saying to himself in Italian ‘Go. Stop. Run. Go. Stop. Run.’  Over and over again, just to remember them,” citing how steady and quick his transition to his new environment has been.

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Excited With New Surroundings

In Kim-Min-jae, Luciano Spalletti found the steal of the European summer transfer window.
His performances have consistently improved from the beginning of the campaign, and with it, so have Napoli's results remained consistent, currently sitting top of the league and winning all of their first three matches in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League, the latest success a 6-1 drubbing of Ajax Amsterdam on Matchday Three.

Kim offered his thoughts following his team's 3-1 victory over Torino in their last league encounter.

"I'm part of a huge club and this is a dream team," he began.

"I’m thrilled to be here, as part of this fantastic squad with a wonderful coach.  [Luciano] Spalletti is a coach with incredible qualities.  I’m learning so much from him about movement and I’m really improving."

“It’s just the start but we hope we can keep it up because this team has huge potential,” he finished.

Napoli are away to Cremonese in their next Serie A fixture this weekend before hosting Ajax in their reverse fixture in continental play on Matchday Four on October 13th.

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