There is a reason why Carlo Ancelotti is known in footballing circles as the ‘forward whisperer’.
As Didier Drogba, Angel di Maria, Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and more will tell you, this is a man whose success has been built on his unrivalled ability to get the very best attackers in the game performing to the very best of their ability.
But his greatest achievement at Napoli had nothing to do with Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens, Marek Hamsik or Jose Callejon.
Instead, it was Nikola Maksimovic, a classy and uncompromising centre-half, who arguably made the biggest strides during Ancelotti’s short-lived and, in truth, rather underwhelming spell at the Stadio San Paolo.
Maksimovic had started just ten Serie A games in a year-and-a-half under Maurizio Sarri and spent the final six months of the chain-smoking coach’s tenure on loan at Spartak Moscow.
But as soon as Aurelio di Laurentiis unveiled the former Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Chelsea boss as Sarri’s replacement, Maksimovic went from forgotten man to centre-back star almost overnight.
“On the first day we talked and we understood each other well. I understood what he wanted, and I worked really hard to get this opportunity,” the 24-time Serbia international adds.
Napoli appear to be on the up under current incumbent Gennaro Gattuso, beating Juventus in the Coppa Italia to secure their first major trophy in six years while pulling in the same direction again the Ancelotti era unrivalled amid public accusations and awful performances.
But while the usually popular Ancelotti endured a strained relationship with some of Napoli’s star players, in particular captain Lorenzo Insigne, he and Maksimovic remained on good terms until the axe swung down on December 10th.
So with CalcioNapoli24 reporting that a reunion could be on the cards at Goodison Park, with Everton showing an interest in the £13 million-rated defender, do not be surprised if Maksimovic is wearing a different shade of blue next season.