Elseid Hysaj 22 Defender Napoli Albania
Albanian full-back Elseid Hysaj moved to Italy at the age of 14 to join his immigrant father, who’d been sending money back home and played a huge role in his son’s transition into professional football. Having been picked up by Empoli in 2009, Hysaj helped them to promotion from Serie B and then, along with his head coach Maurizio Sarri, shone in Serie A in 2014/15. They both headed for Napoli the following summer.
2016 has been…
Almost flawless. Hysaj wasn’t booked between January 31st and August 27th and that just about sums him up. He’s a wonderfully talented right-back but he’s also consistent. Very much Napoli’s first choice, he started 37 of their 38 Serie A matches in 2015/16 and played the full 90 minutes 35 times. Notwithstanding a couple of UEFA Champions League-inspired rest weekends, the pattern this season is similar.
In addition to being first choice for one of Italy’s top clubs – in a position that’s long been tactically important for them, no less – Hysaj is an international regular with more than 25 senior caps already to his name. After playing for Albania’s Under-17s and Under-21s (for whom he’s still eligible at 22, with the 2017 UEFA European Under-21 Championship on the horizon), he made his senior debut at 18.
This year he was first choice for his country at UEFA EURO 2016 and even captained the side in a warm-up friendly against Qatar. To say he’s established would be an understatement.
Hysaj is everything one could ask for in a full-back. He’s defensively smart enough to operate as a de facto third centre-back when his team defend deep and pull José Callejón into a deep position alongside him, and when they need him at right-back, he’s at right-back. That sounds obvious, but in the modern game it’s not always the case. Although he occasionally lets crosses by him a little easily, he’s decent in the tackle and has a knack for being in the right place.
He’s also got fantastic quality on the ball. He’s quick, he’s got great feet and is very vibrant and inventive. He’s unflustered and rarely wastes possession, eschewing the ‘boot it’ option in favour of running with the ball until he can’t go any further, and then offloading.
Hysaj is a cool customer and fabulous to watch. He gets high and wide, crosses exceptionally well and marries all that attacking ability to enough defensive quality to keep some seriously good wingers in check.
When a player is performing to Hysaj’s standard at 22 years of age, featuring every week at the top end of Serie A and playing the Champions League and internationally, the biggest challenge he faces is to maintain his impetus. Nothing about his extraordinary progress so far suggests the Albanian isn’t capable of doing so.
With a major international tournament under his belt there’s not a whole lot of ‘up’ left for his Albania career, at least until a few more of their players can match his quality. At club level, 2021 feels like an awfully long time away and Napoli are a club that now play in the Champions League as often as not.
Nevertheless, reported interest from Atlético Madrid, Barcelona and some of the richest clubs in the world’s richest league can turn one’s head.
B Consistently excellent
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