Napoli vibrates 33 years after Maradona | Sports

The Poggioreale cemetery, the largest in Naples, woke up after the historic victory against Brescia with a blue banner with white letters on the wall at the entrance: “You don’t know what you’ve missed.” It happened on the morning of May 11, 1987. And what the venerable tenants of the cemetery had not been able to enjoy was the first scudetto that Napoli raised in its history, a club with hardly any record and a hobby that was worth almost all possible titles. But, above all, they could not witness the feat of an Argentine genius who had restored pride to an entire southern Italy crushed by inequality and a certain arrogance from the north, clearly represented by Michel Platini’s Juventus. Three seasons later they lifted the title again. But 33 years have passed. And the income of the memory began to run out.

Nobody wants to talk openly about it. Nobody wants to be jinxed. Only smiles, knowing glances or commenting on details of a match are allowed. And collect. In many streets in the center of the city, in the neighborhoods of Forcella or Quartieri Spagnoli, residents have set up little stalls with scarves and Naples paraphernalia that hide a piggy bank. Each one, what they can: 5, 10, 20 euros. “It is that Vesuvius is going to explode, friend. You can’t imagine what it will be like,” says Andrea, sitting in a small plastic chair in front of a cafeteria in Forcella.

One of the streets in the center of Naples.
One of the streets in the center of Naples.Paolo Manzo

The feat is colossal. With 12 games to go, the team led by Luciano Spalletti takes 18 points from second place: Inter Milan. This Saturday, the Azzurri they won again against Atalanta (2-0) and paved even more what already seems a triumphant walk to the league title. Napoli, a team that was bankrupt in 2004 and today scares the Champions League (this week it defends a 0-2 defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt to advance to the quarterfinals), is one step away from achieving its third scudetto. The last one was achieved 33 years ago, when Diego Armando Maradona was still playing in the team and was already beginning to walk through the alleys of Forcella. Sometimes by the hand of the Giuliano clan. “Look, this is me with Diego. It was the day of my baptism”, says Andrea showing a photo on the mobile where he appears with two years held by the Argentine 10 at a treat. “This was like his second home. He always ran around here. But those from Quartieri now want to take possession of it. if we win the scudetto they will find out”, he announces, highlighting the historic fight between neighborhoods to see who is more Neapolitan and more from Napoli.

The facade of a building in Naples, decorated with giant stickers of the players.
The facade of a building in Naples, decorated with giant stickers of the players.Paolo Manzo

The alleys are already decorated. Huge reproductions of the stickers that make up the current line-up hang on the façade of a building. As if they were hanging laundry. Two steps away from the square where the Maradona mural stands out in Quartieri Spagnoli, they have placed life-size figures of the players. Napoli’s cannon anthem plays, while tourists buy Osimhen’s mask (the striker, the team’s star, has played with one since splitting his skull in a jump a year ago).

The Nigerian, which is now disputed by half of Europe, has also been the inspiration for the best-selling cake these days in the city. Everything is euphoria. And in via San Gregorio Armeno, the alley of the nativity scenes, the shops only sell player figurines. Even with the president, Aurelio De Laurentiis (ADL), who at the beginning of the season was criticized by everyone for having sold stars like Mertens and Koulibaly, and today the whole city reveres for having built a devastating team with unknown players like Osimhen, the Korean defender Kim Min-Jae or Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, a Georgian with an unpronounceable name with whom the entire stadium has fallen in love. The road to here has been hard. And much of it is his merit.

A tourist is photographed with a reproduction of the player Osimhen.
A tourist is photographed with a reproduction of the player Osimhen.Paolo Manzo

In the summer of 2004, ADL, a short guy with a devilish character, was having breakfast on his terrace in Capri when he read in the morning that Napoli was bankrupt and was going to be auctioned off. The historic club, which had won two scudetti and a UEFA led by Maradona just over a decade ago, was no more than an old concrete stadium in the Fuorigrotta neighborhood, a melancholic fans and a handful of promissory notes. De Laurentiis had no idea of ​​football, he was interested in basketball. But he bought it, invested 120 million and in three years raised it to Serie A. He wanted to implement a contract model like the ones he made his actors sign and always kept finances at bay. If soccer was the biggest television show in Italy, why wouldn’t he apply the same methods that had given him so much profit in the cinema? The problem is that, just as it happened in his family, he had to compete with the gigantic legend of Maradona in the stadium (which, moreover, today bears his name).

A scudetto I would now tear down the psychological frontier that a memory turned into a heavy monument has always represented. Naples has always insisted on competing against itself, on self-destructing in the shadow of the volcano that always wanted to threaten it. Even now, on the verge of a historic victory, many dispute the paternity of the success. Or the sympathy of Maradona who, the same course that Argentina raised a World Cup without him, will be able to see wherever he is, just like the tenants of Poggioreale, how the other team in his life celebrates him.

Nativity scene figurines of the Georgian player Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.
Nativity scene figurines of the Georgian player Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.Paolo Manzo

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