The history of Naples dates back to the Stone Ages with the city and surrounding areas even finding proper mentions in Greek mythology. Much like Mount Vesuvius which overlooks the city, Naples also represents the dichotomy of life in the region – tremendous pride in their tradition while enduring some of the worst tragedies imaginable. It is no surprise that it went from being the most-bombed city during World War II to a popular tourist destination with its pizza attaining almost legendary status. For the people in Naples, their culture and heritage play a massive role and if there is one institution that unities all of them in passion, it is their beloved football club – SSC Napoli.
While the club was founded in 1926, the league title continued to elude them. A couple of Coppa Italia wins in 1960s and 1970s was the pinnacle of their success but the fans were hungry for something more. Then, out of nowhere, a miracle happened in 1984 and nothing was ever the same.
Napoli broke the world transfer record fee to sign Diego Maradona from Barcelona and his arrival marked the beginning of their golden years. Maradona came to Italy with a reputation of being one of the best players in the world at that point and two years later, he guided them to their first ever Serie A title. Till that point, not a single club from mainland southern Italy had won the league title and that triumph elevated Maradona to almost mythical levels. Such was his impact that Napoli was the only place in Italy where the Argentine national anthem was not jeered during 1990 World Cup.
Soon after the World Cup, Maradona was handed a 15-month ban for failing a drug test and he will never play for Napoli again. But, his status was confirmed in the heart of the city as was evident from the countless murals on the walls. The footballer’s picture was there in almost every household in the city and rumours say that during the 1986 season, some fans even said prayers in his praise.
“Our Maradona, Who Takes the Field, We have hallowed thy name, Thy Kingdom is Napoli, Lead us not into disappointment, But deliver unto us the title, Amen.”
33 years have passed since Napoli’s second Serie A win under Maradona but the club has failed to replicate the success. Superstars have come and have also left for greener pastures but the trophy cabinet was left without a third league title. However, the wait is finally about to end.
With six games to go in the Serie A season, Napoli are just a draw away from a well-deserved Scudetto but this time, it has been a team effort than the genius of any one individual. Over the years, Napoli have made a name for themselves for developing young talent. With the likes of Victor Osimhen, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Kim Min-jae, the club has players who have top clubs from around the world fighting over themselves but it was the club philosophy that proved to be the key.
The relationship between Napoli fans and owner Aurelio De Laurentiis can best be described as complicated. The growth of the club has been slow but steady since the 1990s but the tag of a “feeder club” has not been a happy one for the faithful. The young talents found their run of form in Naples but it were the bigger clubs where they would eventually sign and go on to win titles. Some of Laurentiis’ manager choices were also questioned but Luciano Spalletti proved to be a pure gem.
The two-time Serie A Coach of the Year was no stranger to the league and it was the experience that the young Napoli side needed to succeed. Italian football has long favoured counter-attacking football with a strong defence but Napoli are probably the anti-thesis to that very idea. Spalletti opted for a 4-3-3 with the most emphasis on pressing high up the pitch and attacking in hordes. The attacking wingers are the most crucial part of the system as they drive the aggressive play.
With most Italian sides favouring a 3-5-2 or 3-4-2-1, Napoli caught the likes of Juventus and AC Milan by surprise but their overwhelming offensive gameplay. Osimhen has been excellent in his role as the imposing striker and the link-up play between the wingers and the full-backs has created a system that allows the team to constantly attack the opposition’s box without any respite.
The other key factor behind Napoli’s success this season has been their possession style football with the club enjoying the highest percentage of successful passes in the league. Kim Min-jae leads the list with 75.3 per cent pass accuracy per game while fellow defender Amir Rrahmani is second with 72.5 per cent. Add to that, the rampant goal-scoring and assist record of Osimhen and Kvaratskhelia – also called Kvaradona – and we have an almost perfect recipe for Serie A success.
The Napoli fans have been ready to celebrate the league win for quite some time now. The club has led the points table from the very beginning and had an almost impossible lead by the middle of the season. It is just a matter of time that the Scudetto returns finally to the city of Naples and what can be more fitting that the trophy coming to the aptly-named Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.
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