If you walk around the city of Naples it’s not the modern day heroes that you see immortalised. That is not to say there is a sense of tough love for Kvaratskhelia, Di Lorenzo, Labotka or the coach Spalletti. All around the Quartieri Spagnoli there are Napoli shirts with todays names dangling from window ledges. Stairwells are painted sky blue, while life size cardboard cutouts of the current squad are on every nearly corner.
The cramped housing in the centre of Naples resonates with a sense of impending celebration.
Caricatures of Ciucciarelli (Little Donkeys) with the word ‘campione 100%’ are everywhere as is title shield (Scudetto) alongside the number ‘3’ – a hint at the 2022-23 Serie A title being only the third in Napoli’s history.
While the current team may well be remembered for years it’s true there is no doubting whom the ultimate representative of this city.
Just as in Paris where it is the Eiffel Tower that dominates in Naples Diego Maradona is the all pervading symbolic force. Despite standing less than 5’5″ tall Diego Maradona is revered by all Neapolitans. In death as in life he is seen as the saviour of their city; someone whose symbolic image makes money for the poor whether via fridge magnets that are sold for €2 to the wall murals that bring foreign tourists to the city.
Scudetto Number Three Awaits…….
There are in effect two thunderous and pulsating craters in Naples. One is Mount Vesuvius a volcano has not exploded since 1944, while the other, the San Paulo Stadium, has not seen Serie A title glory since 1990.
Although its unlikely Mount Vesuvius will explode any time soon the same cannot be said for the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona – the name by which the San Paulo is now known. With the club 16 points ahead of second place Lazio in Serie A it’s only a matter of time before the city of Naples explodes in celebration.
Following the death of former Napoli player Diego Maradona on 25 November 2020, the city’s mayor Luigi de Magistris met the Napoli president De Laurentiis and agreed to rename the home stadium the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. On the 4th December 2020, the proposal was passed unanimously by the City Council and so began a new era in the history of the club.
Italian football is traditionally dominated by the giants from the north – Juventus, Internazionale and AC Milan. Even when this dominance was challenged by those from Rome so the north always seemed to grasp back a firm hold of Serie A proceedings.
But with the once dominant Juventus now a pale shadow of themselves, and the power balance that swung to the Milan clubs at an end, a pathway has opened up for Napoli to progress.
The key to the success of the team is hard to actually define such is the multitude of talent at the disposal of the experienced coach. Victor Osimhen has looked unstoppable up front – his explosive style bringing fear to almost every defence both domestically and in Europe.
Tactically the Napoli side tend to line up in a 4-3-3 formation that is as classy as the Emporio Armani shirts that the club currently wears for playing kit. That class comes from the Georgian Kvaratskhelia and the Pole Zielinski both of whom have proved to be two of the best attacking forces in Serie A.
The Georgian, plucked from Dinamo Batumi via the Russians of Rubin Kazan, has proved himself to be Italian football’s best dribbler. Few outside of Lionel Messi are able to replicate his ungainly sloping style and his mesmerising ability to drift past some of Europe’s toughest defenders with ease.
That said Napoli have been helped by the glaring inconsistencies of domestic rivals Juventus, Inter Milan and the Rome giants. Defending champions AC Milan, meanwhile, have never looked like replicating last season’s title triumph stumbling in the key months after the world cup. Milan did though place some sort of stake in the heart of Napoli by demolishing the home side 4-0 at the Diego Maradona Stadium in early April.
The glow of that success may well wear off come the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final ties in April when the two giants playing off for a place in the semi final. There, one of English football’s heavyweights may well await.
The San Paulo ‘Saint Paul’ Stadium in Naples survived a massive earthquake that struck the Campania region of Italy during the winter of 1980. The summer of the same year had seen the UEFA European Championships come to Naples. By World Cup ’90 this was a stadium most famous for the Italy v Argentina semi-final and the pre-match growling and post match gloating Diego Maradona.
While it was nearby Avellino that suffered the most in the terrible earthquake of 1980 there had been fears that the concrete stadium structure in Naples might have to be demolished. Moreover, in more recent times the FIGC was forced to abandon a bid for Euro 2028 due to the state and condition of the biggest Serie A stadiums including that stadia in Naples.
Today the home of Napoli looks good at least inside, but the pitch side sight-lines for fans are poor so much so that the top tiers are the most favoured not least because of the cover.
UEFA meanwhile would almost certainly frown at the state of the current exteriors which at best can be described as shabby and downtrodden. Most of the exterior appear to not have changed that much since the hot summer of Italia ’90.
It’s said that the houses in the vast neighbourhood of Fuorigrotta located in a western suburbs of Naples shake when a goal is scored inside the stadium. Covering an area of 6,2 km2, this area is the most populated suburb of the city with a population of over 75,000 people. Walking to the stadium from the Piazza Leopardi Stazione there are few balconies which do not have a sky blue flag or scarf dangling from it.
But in a strange sort of way this area serves as a sea of calm on a non match-day. It all feels so far away from the crazy central areas of Naples and the nearby Bay of Naples with its unpredictable blue waters where from Napoli gets its kit colour.
It’s unlikely though that this particular suburb of Naples will be calm come Sunday June 4th 2023.
On this particular day Napoli will be presented with the Serie A trophy after the fixture against Sampdoria. The stands will explode with noise and next season’s playing shirt will be adorned and honoured with the Scudetto for only the third time in Napoli’s history.
Images from Napoli here.