DIEGO MARADONA WAS MORE THAN A FOOTBALL FIGURE FOR NAPLES. THE STREETS OF THE CITY ARE STILL DECORATED WITH THE POSTERS OF THE ARGENTINIAN.
A City, A Human Being
In today’s football economy, where multi-billion budgets are managed, it is not easy for a player to be identified with a team let alone with a city. For example, Christiano Ronaldo who had worn the Real Madrid uniform for nine years can start to play for Juventus due to receiving 31 million Euros. Very rarely, there may be players such as Lionel Messi and Francesco Totti who have never played for another club in their careers. But at the very most, they get imprinted on the memories as the star players of their clubs. Let’s check out the only, first, huge and probably the last case in the world where a huge city is identified with a football player.
Diego Armando Maradona And Naples
When Barcelona made the Maradona transfer public in 1982, everyone said: “The best football player in the world has been transferred to one of the best clubs in the world.”
That was the case. The Spanish have done the most expensive transfer in football history and managed to bring Diego from Argentina. It looked perfect on paper. But when doing this transfer, Barcelona has only evaluated Diego’s skills and have not considered his free spirit. The Spanish club’s long-established rules, discipline and game culture was not suited for Diego at all. He aspired to manage the team, but Barcelona was not a team to be managed. He scored goals, helped winning games but was not happy. First, the issues with his coach and then the issues with the president of the club became intricate and Barcelona put Diego on the sales list after two years.
The Transfer Of Maradona To Naples
Just then, the agenda in the poorest and toughest city in South Italy was Maradona. The Naples Club President Corrado Ferlaino had his eyes on the Argentinian star to change the mood of the team and the city after the unsuccessful years. Barcelona did not want to let go of the world’s most expensive transfer for cheap. The Naples club did not have much money but they had spirit. The city rose in excitement when hearing the name of Maradona. The Naples club president’s announcement “We are short in money” had repercussions even in the poorest streets in the city. The Italian club contacted Barcelona was once more after the necessary money was raised in fifteen days in the bank account opened for Maradona.
Diego had many aspirants but Naples being of one heart and mind for him shined bright just like the passion of the Argentinian star. When Maradona arrived in Naples in 1984, no one could have guessed that he’ll be an important symbol of the city. At the end of the first season, they ranked 8th, in the second season they ranked third. Then came the infamous summer of 1986. When Maradona won the world’s cup nearly all by himself for Argentina, every goal he scored, every move he made became iconic in the world’s football history. He dribbled past seven English football players and scored a goal which was considered as the most beautiful goal in the football history and to top it off he handled the ball in the nets past the goalkeeper and stated: “It was the hand of God”. In August of 1986 Naples had the best and most talked about player in the world.
The next season Naples with Maradona achieved his first success in Europe and brought the formerly named “UEFA Cup” to his museum. Meanwhile, other Italian clubs were breaking their necks to stop Naples, transferring Gullit, Van Basten, Brehmen but they could not stop the Argentinian. In the 1989-90 season, Naples became champion once again and Maradona became truly a Naples phenomenon. The love for the Argentinian star reached to a point where a Maradona chapel has been built. The love for Maradona in Naples has gotten out of hand and Diego was aware of that. The world cup that year took place in Italy and incidentally Italy was hosting Argentina for the game in Naples. Before the semi-finals, Maradona told people in Naples: “You can cheer for Italy 364 days but please cheer for me and Argentina in the semi-finals. That statement stroke all of a heap in Italy but the people in Naples did not stand idly by. That day, the tribunes in San Paolo was divided in two: Half of the stadium cheered for Italy and the other half cheered for Maradona, Argentina defeated Italy that day and advanced to final. The Italian national team player Paolo Maldini talked to the interviewers and reproached the people in Naples by saying: “If the game has not taken place in Naples, it would have been us advancing to the final”
Football Is Never Just Football
Of course, the love for Maradona cannot be explained just with football. In those years there were severe social as well as economic differences between the North and South of Italy. All the investments were done in the North, all the attraction centers regarding fashion and tourism, etc. were also located in the North. There were severe differences regarding GNP between the two parts of the country. These economic standard differences manifested itself in every area of life, including football. Big football teams of North Italy such as Inter, Milan, and Juventus had been dominating Italy league Serie A for years. North Italy represented rich and happy people who earn well and live in luxury, contrary to this the South represented poor and angry people who live from hand to mouth.
In this conjuncture, Naples was the symbol of the South. Till the mid-1980s, Naples was a city dominated by the mafia. Conflicts between the powerful families of the cities and bloody executions were common in Naples. Exactly because of these reasons, Diego Maradona became the man who changed the ill fate of the huge city. Now, Naples was on the front burner in Italy not with its mafia conflicts, murders, and fights but with its success in football and wild celebrations. Maradona showed whole Italy that the life in the South is beautiful too and that you can be happy there too. Nowadays, where technology is deeply integrated into our lives and where the football turned into a Money-minded game, unfortunately, such a scenario cannot happen again. Digital life neither allows such a sense of belonging or a romantic story like this. The Union between Naples and Maradona will be talked about forever and ever because it was the first and the last.
The Golden Boy Of The Football: Diego Armando Maradona
He was born on 30th October 1960 in Buenos Aires. In 1976, at the age of 16, he became a professional with Argentinos Juniors. He wore this team’s jersey until 1981. In 1982 he was transferred to FC Barcelona. In 1984, he went to Napoli from Serie A team. The most in10se role in Italian League(Serie A) titles(1986-1987,1989-1990); in Italian Cup winning in 1987; the UEFA Cup championship in 1989 and Italian Super Cup victory in the year 1990 of Napoli was again his. Jersey number 10, which Maradona wore, retired in club history in his honor in Napoli. In 1993, he transferred to Newell’s Old Boys and in 1995, to his old team, Boca Juniors. On October 30, 1997, on the day he turned 37, he announced that he had quit football.
“They Do Not Know What They Are Missing.”
In 1987, Maradona carried Naples to Serie A (Italian Football League) for the first time in the team’s history. That day was declared a public holiday in the city. The next morning, there was not a single shop open because of the celebrations. People of Naples were celebrating the championship wildly, hung on the Wall of the city’s cemetery a banner which read “They do not know what they are missing.”
Not A Football Player But A Folk Hero
On a normal day in Naples, it is very common to see Italians wearing Maradona uniforms on the streets. At bars and restaurants, you can see old pictures of the Argentinian put in the best areas. Maradona posters are still unfurled in the San Paolo stadium at every game. Children born in Naples are still named Diego most commonly.
By: Fırat Günayer
*This article was published in the September-October issue of Marmara Life.