It is almost impossible for any outsider to understand how reverent a man can be in a city.
Every city, town and country has its heroes, who fuss for pictures and signatures on the streets and have a hard time living a typical everyday life. But no man has suffered more from that burden than Diego Maradona in Naples.
A Maradona Flag / Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA / Getty Images
It’s not a call to the inhabitants of the wonderful place – far from it. They welcomed a simple, ordinary man into their ranks and turned him into a God. Unfortunately, immortality is only for the truly divine, and on November 25, 2020, Diego Armando Maradona left us.
But the relationship between man and city exceeded football. The Argentine superstar became an adopted Neapolitan. He immersed himself in the vibrant, healthy and frenetic culture of Italy’s neglected region and promised to turn the country upside down.
He arrived in Naples in 1984, in one of the biggest shocks in football transfer history. He impressed during his two years in Europe with Barcelona, although injuries and controversy covered his time in Spain. And there was a mass quarrel before the Spanish king who pulled down the curtain for his time in Catalonia, and Maradona was sent packing to Italy.
On this day in 1984, Diego Armando Maradona was introduced as a Napoli player to an audience of 80,000 in San Paolo. #Storia pic.twitter.com/6GGD7oPIgZ
– Everything Napoli (@NapoliAndNaples) July 5, 2019
When asked what he hoped to find when he moved to Naples, the Argentine replied “peace”. He definitely chose the wrong city for it. Naples is a buzzing cacophony of noise, life and soul. It is home to millions of salt on earth, real men and women, who exude pride in being Napoletano.
It is a sign of honor they wear with pleasure and a radiant smile – even if it has not come without their hardships. Naples was Italy’s poor, depressed, neglected little brother, who was often the nation’s reflection in times of crisis. Their people felt inferior and below the richer northerners, who looked down on the hard-working people of this area.
They were a poor victim, suppressed into silence and left without a voice. And so Maradona came a long way.
Stadio San Paolo, home ground of SSC Napoli (1988) #SSCNapoli #Napoli #Tifosi #SerieA #Naples #Calcio pic.twitter.com/wEjXLVMh4y
– MotherSoccer (@MotherSoccerNL) 2 May 2016
For the people of Naples, football was everything and stop everything. They woke up, went to work and saved up their salary every week, all with the ultimate goal of going to San Paolo on a Sunday afternoon to see their beloved heroes get out on the field.
The arrival of Maradona signaled a new era for the city. They went from a poor man, in the middle of the road to a title challenger in a few years. They could compete with those who were richer than themselves and went into these battles as well-deserved equals, rather than the quirky fratellino.
They were ready to make some noise in Italy.
The Argentine was the metaphorical clenched fist of an entire population, who screamed and screamed into the night and finally made their voices heard. Every Sunday the opponent’s took aim and released his insults against the people of Naples, and every Sunday Maradona would stick a middle finger against the enemy and send them home meaningless and humiliated.
A clenched fist for the whole of Naples / Etsuo Hara / Getty Images
He was the beating heart of the city. He was the anger, the rage, the oppression, the ambition of millions of people, and he channeled these pent-up emotions, so that they ran out on football pitches all over Italy and wreaked havoc.
He was the victory for the poor, he was the voice for the silent.
Maradona grew to become the best player in the world during his time in Naples. And as a thank you to the city that welcomed him, worshiped him and hung on to every word, he delivered them something that only a true deity could conjure up – a Scudetto.
Not just one, in fact, but two. The forward carried a former Parthenopei side in honor of 1987 and 1990, winning the Serie A title on both occasions, while also conquering Europe by lifting the UEFA Cup in 1989.
Maradona poses with the Uefa Cup 1988-1989 #footballmemories #maradona #elpibe #diegomaradona #albiceleste # d10s #calcio #soccer #seriea #serieatim # napoli1926 #napoletano #futbolargentino #futbolargentina #fiorionapcssmzmmmVm.
– Football Memories (@FM_Twittah) August 24, 2019
He could do what no other player has ever tried to achieve. He took a medium-sized group of players and turned them all into heroes. He made every man by his side feel 10 feet tall, and radiated an impressive aura and an unshakable winning mentality, which has rarely been seen.
He gave hope and faith to an entire city, a people who hungered for justice and revenge.
And of course there was nothing to stop him with the ball at his feet. But growing lyrical about his footballing abilities feels wrong. We all know how good he was, and future generations will all be invited to videos of his magic as well.
It was his connection to a city that really set him apart. A walk through the streets of Naples would fool you into thinking that Maradona will still wear the number 10 jersey this season for I Partenopei.
Best player in history? Bradwell Bomber’s most improved player of the year 2006
Games that recognize games pic.twitter.com/XtJnRzx6Gc
– Max Cooper (@ MaxCooper5) September 6, 2020
Posters, paintings, murals, keychains, toys for children, animals and all sorts of memories and souvenirs carry the big man’s face. Each street you reject offers a different kind of memory and ode to its hero.
Each wall is plastered with his face, each shirt has his name on the back. This is a love that has never died. In fact, it has only grown since he left Naples in 1991.
The stadium is full of flags with his skin etched over them, the supporters are still singing his name as they did when he hit the ball in the top corner of the net. Every contemporary memorable goal or action is compared to “the one Maradona did that time against,” whatever unfortunate party felt his left boot full force at that time.
Maradona and Naples became one. The man known for his extravagant, chaotic attitude to life, found his rightful home in the most chaotic and hectic cities. The two crossed paths and held each other so tightly that they pushed each other and themselves to heights that were previously unattainable.
Just a typical Naples / Michael Steele / Getty Images street
And when they parted – at least in the body – they had achieved everything and more they had decided to master. The little guy had won, against all odds. A city had risen and the world had noticed it.
Even now that Maradona has left us, his story will be passed on from grandfather to father, father to son, and will live on as long as the great city of Naples continues to breathe life.