In years to come, we may look back on Napoli's 1-0 win against Fiorentina last month as a watershed moment in Lorenzo Insigne's career. Coach Carlo Ancelotti had already moved the 27-year-old to a more central position when Napoli had to turn games around against Lazio and Milan at the start of the season, but this was the first match where he started as a nominal striker.
Nipping in front of his marker to settle a close encounter in the 79th minute that seemed destined to finish in frustration, when Insigne was substituted with eight minutes to spare Ancelotti clasped his player's face and planted a kiss on his forehead.
Anyone who has followed the former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich coach's career closely knows this is far from an empty gesture. It is a leitmotif of a career spent working with some of the most talented footballers of all-time, an impulse reserved for special players only -- the likes of Kaka, Andrea Pirlo and Cristiano Ronaldo.
"Lorenzo did very well," Ancelotti said afterwards. "He was coming off a period in which he was unable to express himself fully. Today he played in a slightly different position than usual and I liked what I saw a lot. He was the best player on the pitch."
The change feels like it has the potential to be for Insigne what that 2006 November afternoon in Genova was for another one club man and hometown hero, Francesco Totti, when an injury crisis up front at Roma led him to deputise as a False No. 9. He, of course, went on to make the role his own and finish his career as the second all-time top scorer in Serie A.
Il Magnifico, as Insigne is known (a reference to Lorenzo de' Medici, patron of renaissance culture), may be a little way off such feats but he is now enjoying his best start to a season ever. As a striker he has scored six goals in his last six games in all competitions and four in his last five in the Champions League, the only exception coming in the 0-0 away at Red Star Belgrade when he hit the bar.
The Partenopei were expected to regress this season. Maurizio Sarri had a team with the fifth highest wage bill in the league punching well above its weight before he departed for Chelsea last season but, under Ancelotti, little touches like the shift in Insigne's position, greater flexibility in tactics and a more inclusive approach -- 21 different players have started for Napoli this season -- have created an environment where enthusiasm is high and results are following as a consequence.
"It's the simplicity of the gestures," Insigne told La Gazzetta dello Sport in preseason as he reflected on Ancelotti's impact. "[Carlo] takes a shower with us. He makes the most of every moment we spend in the dressing room or around the table chatting. He 'forced' all the new signings to stand on a chair and sing. And he's with us, part of it all ... The way he has introduced himself to our world has been excellent. He transmits great serenity to the environment. I am convinced that with him we will manage to improve our performances in Europe because his record at that level is fabulous."
That conviction was entirely justified. Insigne netted the winner as Napoli out-played Liverpool at the San Paolo for a 1-0 win in the Champions League and he was on the scoresheet in Paris on Wednesday, dinking a delightful pass from Jose Callejon over Alphonse Areola, as the Partenopei twice got themselves in front only for PSG to rescue a late 2-2 draw through a Mario Rui own-goal and a stoppage time wonder strike from Angel Di Maria.
No longer stationed out wide, Insigne is saved from the grunt work of tracking back and protecting his full-back. His legs are less tired, his head clearer and he is closer to goal -- a nerve-shredding, blood-twisting combination if it's your job to defend him. Mindful of his touch, the accomplishment of his technique, sense of imagination and willingness to try things, Insigne could end up resembling another Neapolitan, Antonio Di Natale, as he blossoms into a centre-forward.
Watching from afar, his old mentor Sarri believes there is more to Insigne taking another step in his development than just playing in a new role. "It's simple," he explained to Il Corriere dello Sport. "He believes in himself. He has shrugged off the insecurities and blues that can come with being the main man for his hometown club.
"Think about it. It was only a matter of time. I don't think it was an issue of where he played. If he's closer to a centre-forward he is going to find the goal better because he has the class and the skill to do that. But he can play anywhere ... the latest progression is the DNA waking up inside him and shouting: 'Go on, smash it'. This is Lorenzo in a nutshell. Now he mustn't switch off. He has understood the problem and solved it -- not just for Napoli."
Indeed, it's hoped he'll do the same for the Italy national team. While Mario Balotelli and Andrea Belotti struggle for form, and Ciro Immobile continues to miss the mark for his country, the striker-less system coach Roberto Mancini used against Ukraine and Poland -- with Insigne and Federicos Bernardeschi and Chiesa interchanging fluidly -- looks like the future.
It's almost a year since Italy drew 0-0 with Sweden at San Siro -- failing to make the World Cup for the first time in 60 years after a 1-0 defeat on aggregate -- with Daniele De Rossi shouting at Giampiero Ventura's staff to put Insigne on instead of him as the Azzurri tried to get back into that ill-fated game.
The disappointment of not playing at a World Cup -- despite being in the squad as Italy hosted Italia '90 -- drove Mancini to take Sampdoria on his back and win the Scudetto the following year. Insigne is now 27. He wasn't alive when Napoli last won the Scudetto in 1989-90 and you wonder if the mix of knowing how close this team came last season and his World Cup disappointment is what lies behind the latest evolution in his game.
Insigne, as Sarri recently said, is "the best Italian player." No Italian has scored more goals in the Champions League since his debut in the competition in 2013. No Italian has scored more goals in Serie A this season (Immobile also has six; Genoa striker Krzysztof Piatek has nine but is Polish.)
On Sunday, Napoli play Roma in what has come to be seen as a playoff to be considered the next best team in Serie A behind Juventus. Neither will settle for that and aspire to much more. But after making his own successful transition to another position, Insigne's dream to be to Naples what Totti is to Rome may just be beginning.