The Swiss midfielder on the up and up and up

By Colin Stone

Inler: A star midfielder for Switzerland and Napoli

It may not have been Gokhan Inler’s idea in the first place, but it’s an image that will forever be associated with him.

In July 2011, eccentric Napoli owner Aurilio De Laurentiis thought it wise to keep the press and fans guessing by unveiling their new signing (a yet unknown Inler) at a Monday morning press conference – wearing a lion mask.

To top it all off, the mad Italian chairman then had the Swiss international point towards the direction of the snappers for a photo opportunity not to be missed.

The bizarre situation was finally resolved when Inler, a £10.6m signing from Udinese, removed the unusual covering to reveal himself, much to the delight of the supporters and press.

Fans of Walter Mazzarri’s side had been waiting all summer for the midfielder to arrive at the Stadio San Paolo – and rightly so. With an instinctive first touch, a terrific ability to read the game and a panoply of skills up his sleeve, Inler’s direct approach to football has won him many plaudits throughout his time in Italy.

But it was in his homeland of Switzerland where the 28-year-old first made his name. Born to Turkish parents in 1984, the precocious Inler worked his way up through the ranks of several Swiss youth sides before ending up with national giants Basel. But despite spending three years at the club, Inler’s time at the club did not yield a single appearance.

He’s a lion

In 2005, Gokhan moved to FC Aarau where he played 25 times and scored 3 goals, attracting the attention of reigning league champions Zurich. However, after spending a fruitful 18 months with the champions, an even bigger club came calling –  Italian side Udinese. It didn’t take long for Inler to firmly establish himself as one of Serie A’s most-feared central midfielders as he made 162 appearances for the Friuli side. On his way to helping Udinese reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup and achieve several respectable league positions, the Swiss midfielder was constantly linked with moves away, with Arsenal, Chelsea and Juventus seemingly head of the queue.

Although his final year with the Bianconeri was his most successful of his career, no Premier League sides followed up their interest with a firm bid, and fellow Italians Napoli were more than happy to splash out a relatively paltry £12m on the talented playmaker.

But things have only gotten better for Inler since his 2011 transfer. In the 14 months that Gokhan has spent at Napoli, the club has reached the last 16 of the Champions League (knocking out Manchester City on the way); finished fourth in last season’s league table; won the Italian Super Cup, and started this season’s Europa League and Serie A campaigns with some solid victories.

However, despite the endless rave reviews and excellent performances, the highly-rated central midfielder has never been renowned for his goalscoring ability.  During the four seasons he spent at Udinese, Inler only managed to find the net a total of nine times, and during his current spell with Napoli, the Swiss captain is yet to score a league goal.

Inler’s critics suggest that this is area that he must work on if he is to improve his overall game, and even the 28-year-old admits that he’s far from the finished article. “Last season was a very tough one for me,” he said in a July interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport. “What with Serie A, Europe and international duty, I played a lot of games.

“Next season, if we continue to give our all and play the way the coach wants, we can achieve big things. All I want to do is get better and make the fans happy.”

Although there are a few aspects of Inler’s game that he could improve, the midfielder is undoubtedly one of the first names on Walter Mazzarri’s teamsheet. He was again linked with a move abroad this summer, and it seems as though his rapport with the club’s supporters has been strengthened as a result of his decision to stay put. When Inler first arrived at the Italian side last year, he wrote on his personal website: ‘Hello to you all, this is Gokhan Inler, the Warrior of Naples. How do you like that? Yes, you heard that right.’

It seems that Inler’s no-nonsense attitude to football transfers to all areas of his life.