Napoli’s 33 years of wait finally ended on Thursday. The underdogs from southern Italy are the kings of Serie A again. The last time they won the Scudetto was in 1990. One Diego Armando Maradona then had delivered the crown for the second time in three seasons.
For 33 years, Naples waited for this moment. If you sample certain things you will realise how the world has changed in these years. The football World Cup which Italy hosted that year was the last to feature a team from West Germany. Roberto Baggio moved from Fiorentina to Juventus for £8 million, then a world record transfer fee and Liverpool had won their 18th league title, the English Premier League had not even started then. It was also the last time a club from the south of Rome had won the league till the band of Blue Brothers broke the pattern on Thursday.
It seemed an endless wait for Napoli. After the man — they call him God and named their stadium Stadio Diego Armando Maradona after his demise in November 2020 — who took them from the abyss to the pinnacle left the city, Napoli’s fortunes went south. Financial doldrums, relegation and bankruptcy pinned them down and the glory years when Maradona strutted around looked a thing of the past. The taunts kept on coming and the fans looked for solace. Slowly the turnaround happened in the last decade as Napoli consistently finished in the top five.
Yet, even the most die-hard Napoli fan seems to have not put money on Luciano Spalletti’s men to pull it off this season. Players like Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens, Kalidou Koulibaly and Fabian Ruiz left the club and nobody had a clue about their replacements. Napoli, like many clubs in Europe, are notorious for bidding goodbye to players who shine at the club. For example, after they finished runners-up in 2013, they let go top striker Edinson Cavani to PSG for a then club record fee of €64 million. Now, the buzz is Victor Osimhen, whose equaliser at Udinese on Thursday ensured the crown, could be sold.
Osimhen, along with Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, made life miserable for the rival teams. Kvaratskhelia, the Georgian, has been a revelation this season. Not to mention the likes of centre-back Kim Min-jae and forwards Giovanni Simeone and Giacomo Raspadori.
The world got a glimpse of what was in store when Napoli ran roughshod over a hapless Liverpool in the group stage of the Champions League. The 4-1 rout was so comprehensive that at times it looked there could be more goals coming. They topped the group scoring 20 goals and for the first time were in the quarter finals before losing to AC Milan.
Under the 64-year-old Spalletti, Napoli have become one of the most feared teams in Europe. Ruthless and relentless, they would punish the rival if they found a way in. Such is the pace, and it’s so breathtaking, that even before the rival defence could realise, the ball would hit the back of the net.
Like on Thursday, after hosts Udinese made it 1-0 before half-time, Napoli launched a barrage of attacks. The feeling was that the goal would come any time. And it happened seven minutes into the second half. Osimhen finished off a rebound. The bench erupted in joy. Back in Naples, the fireworks lit up the sky.
“Dear Napolitans, The Scudetto Has Been Delivered!!! Now We Feast!!!!” Osimhen, who celebrated so hard that he broke his face mask, would later tweet.
Before Maradona landed in Naples, the city was looked down upon by the elites of north Italy. But soon Maradona changed the entire dynamics of the Italian League. Napoli won their first league title in 1987, brought home the Uefa Cup in 1989 and the second Scudetto in 1990.
He is everywhere in Naples. The graffiti, posters, memorabilia, the Argentine remains the face of the city. Maradona used his influence on the conscience of the people to good effect too. Remember how he fanned the north-south divide in the build-up to the 1990 semi-final clash between Italy and Argentina? Even on Thursday, the travelling fans were waving flags with the Maradona face. As coach Spalletti said after the match: “They saw Diego Armando Maradona play and perhaps his impact is also felt in this success.”
This seems to be true for both the 2022 World Cup champions and Serie A’s new winners.
It will be a never-ending feast for Napoli and the Osimhens.