An honorary Italian

Naples: If there’s one place outside Argentina that will likely match — or possibly even exceed — the outpouring of mourning for Diego Maradona, it’s in Naples. While Maradona was revered around the world as perhaps the greatest football player ever, in Naples he was more than that.

Maradona was treated as a deity for the way he led Napoli to their only two Serie A titles — in 1987 and 1990 — and raised the spirits of the southern Italian city, which remains far removed both geographically and socio-economically from the country’s football capitals of Milan and Turin.

“Maradona wasn’t just a player. He represented the spirit of Napoli for years,” said former Napoli president Corrado Ferlaino, who owned the club when Maradona played there.

Upon hearing the news of Maradona’s death, thousands of Neapolitans poured out into the city’s streets to honour him and light candles in his memory — even though gatherings are banned because the city lies in a coronavirus red zone. Many of them stood below huge murals of their hero that cover entire sides of downtown buildings.

Naples Mayor Luigi De Magistris immediately proposed that the city’s San Paolo Stadium be renamed for Maradona — and ordered the stadium’s lights be turned on all night even though there was no game being played there. “Maradona is Napoli. The passion for him here is known to everyone,” De Magistris said. “Maradona united Neapolitans all over the world — as well as fans of other squads. Today all Neapolitans embrace his family, with the awareness that this embrace will never end. Because it was real love. A great love.”

Maradona, of course, already made Italians cry when his Argentina team eliminated Italy in Naples in the 1990 World Cup semifinals. Many Napoli fans cheered for Maradona and Argentina — not their own country — during that game.

Maradona also led Napoli to the 1989 UEFA Cup title during his seven-season stay. He also allegedly became a regular cocaine addict in the city — a dependence that eventually led to his downfall from football. pti

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