Musings of Maradona

The Maradona connection

Alessio Costabile

Alessio Costabile explores how Diego Maradona remains embedded in the hearts of Napoli and Barcelona fans and how his legacies in the two cities were similar, yet so different

Naples and Barcelona, southern Spain and southern Italy, the Mediterranean as a gateway, a complex relationship with national identity, between independentist impulses and the search for new languages. Two very similar recipes that produced much different results, especially when futbòl is concerned.

Catalan football has produced a giant, a brand, a long tradition of great champions and shiny cups in a heavy trophy cabinet. Football in the shadow of Vesuvius, on the other hand, has taken equally solid roots, but has borne much rarer fruit. Napoli, a working-class team, no point in sugarcoating it, have rarely managed to cross the gates of footballing paradise. 

But in these recipes, a certain Diego Armando Maradona from Villa Fiorito undoubtedly serves as a key ingredient. In discussing the two shades of Diego, there is a host of similarities between his Neapolitan and Catalan experiences. 

The initial relationship began with both fanbases precociously falling in love with his enchanted left foot. One that wove a silky web to tangle defenders, placing him among the Gods of the game.

Diego knew how to play the 'place in the world' of two unique cities such as Naples and Barcelona, historically crossed by tremors of craving cultural, linguistic and traditional independence. He embodied the conflicting nature of these realities that shone in rivalries with cities like Madrid, Milan, Bilbao and Turin, representing two proud peoples still today misunderstood by their own countrymen.  

The pleasure of living in two cities full of life, adventure and fascination was a pleasure that two Mediterranean cities know how to conceal behind every corner. 

His intemperance was another shade. The Blaugrana Maradona who unleashed scuffles on the pitch against Andoni Goikoetxea, his nemesis on Spanish soil, and issued communiqués to Spanish newspapers forcing the club to sell him was the same who quarrelled with Italian journalists. The same Diego who – in order to be transferred to Marseille – unleashed a tug-of-war with the Azzurri in the summer of 1989. Fortunately for us, in vain.

But what were the differences? Well, his accolades were modest in Barcelona, before he catapulted to glory in Naples.

Bound by Diego

Barcelona’s Diego won a Copa de la Liga and a Copa del Rey, scoring in both finals, and a Spanish Super Cup without taking to the field due to the injury Goikoetxea had caused, the after-effects of which he would suffer for the rest of his career. Otherwise, Diego's Spanish trophy cabinet has little to show amid a list of mediocre league placings and disappointing European results. 

The honours list he put together in the Azzurri jersey was of a different tenor, however. Two Scudetti, a UEFA Cup, a World Cup accompanied by the FIFA World Cup Golden Ball, one Italian Cup and two Italian Super Cups. 

The status he achieved within the two fanbases is also distinct. The love between Diego and Barça was a candle that shone bright but brief. The high expectations and the demanding nature of the club was not quite equipped to put up with the Argentine's temperament. There was no place for a problematic character amid a club whose ethos believes they are much more.

The story in Vesuvius’ shadow brings a stark contrast. Naples was waiting for a king, and Diego arrived just in time. Adored, cuddled, idolised from the moment he set foot on the pitch of the stadium that now bears his name. Diego all was granted and all was forgiven. 

But did Maradona bring out the best of Napoli, a team at the edge of the golden circus that was the Italian Championship in the ‘80s? Or was it Naples and the Neapolitans that brought out the best in Diego, allowing him a luxurious life of constant trial and error? Considering what he brought to the grass, the errors were bound to be forgiven.

The final destination at the end of this trip down memory lane is probably a very simple realization.

Diego is Diego, regardless of Barça, and Barça is Barça, regardless of him. 

Naples is Naples thanks to Diego, and he is Maradona thanks to Naples.

There is a 'before Diego' and an 'after Diego' in the history of Naples, and a 'before Naples' and an 'after Naples' in the life of Maradona. It is an insoluble, visceral bond which can never be erased.

Our Champions Journalist fan reporter:
Alessio Costabile
Alessio was raised in a family filled with Napoli supporters, which left him with little choice but to join in; he attended his first game at the Stadio San Paolo in 2002. His favourite player down the years has been former captain Marek Hamšík and he cites Napoli’s 4-3 win over Lazio in 2011 as his best moment as a fan.
About Champions Journalist fan reporters: These blogs have been written by winners of our annual Champions Journalist competition as well as a selection of editors from various fan page accounts. Together they offer their unique insights from the group stages all the way to the final.
Champions Journalist
With thanks to our Champions Journalist winner
Alessio Costabile
Champions Journalist is an annual competition that gives fans a chance to write about their club for Champions Journal.