He was their father. He was their idol. He was their landmark. He was simply their god. There is probably no more beautiful love than the one that unites Napoli and Diego Maradona forever.
Moreover, in the history of football, no one embodies a single city to the same extent. If you ever go to Naples, you will certainly come across a lot of people with the first names "Diego" and "Armando". Or quite simply "Diego Armando".
"Yes, that's my first name", boasted a fan from Napoli on Italian television on Wednesday evening, even going as far as to show his ID card to the camera to justify himself.
Like many, the fan had decided to leave his home shortly after the announcement of the death of the Argentine legend, who died of a heart attack at only 60 years old. The Covid-19 curfew and the restrictions didn't matter to him. It was a time for tears, and the Neapolitans needed to take comfort together. Even while wearing masks.
'The idolatry exceeds all barriers of the simple human being'
They had never completely disappeared, but since Wednesday evening the number 10 jerseys bloomed again in the windows. The blue flags of Napoli flew through the streets of the city, while club scarves protected the inhabitants from the cold. From the youngest to the oldest, from the most fanatical to the most sober: everyone wanted to come together to mark the moment. Yes, Diego Maradona was dead. A sentence difficult to accept for a group of people who had almost imagined it was not possible.
"Maradona directly loved Naples, and Naples directly loved Maradona," Ottavio Bianchi, coach of Napoli between 1985 and 1989 and then again in the 1990s, told Eurosport.
A tribute to Diego Maradona in Naples
Image credit: Getty Images
"Naples and Buenos Aires are two cities that are similar: in terms of mentality, way of life, and philosophy of life ... Naples has always accepted South American players with great enthusiasm. Maradona allowed the social redemption of an entire city.
He was the leader of the situation. The Neapolitans made him the spokesperson for all their problems. It is an indelible union. The idolatry was total and it still remains today, it exceeds all the barriers of the simple human being.
To pay him the tribute he deserved, the Neapolitans have been meeting in several historic places in the city: the Scipione Capece, the historic house Maradona once lived in, or even in front of the famous murals of San Giovanni and the "Quartieri".
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Some had even decided, around a simple table in the middle of a street, to recall good memories with the help of dozens of photos of the Argentine. The trace left by the famous number 10 goes beyond all possible borders. It is almost mystical. Maradona is elevated to the rank of "San Gennaro", the patron saint of the city.
"You have to realise that Diego had enormous pressure," recalls Bianchi. "No one in the world has ever had to put up with that, not the politicians, not the actors ... everywhere he went, he was pressed by public opinion, by supporters, by people who did not know football."
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Maradona is simply a god
From 1984 to 1991, Maradona awakened an entire city with his genius, talent and personality as weapons. He was the man of the people. And the Neapolitans, in turn, quickly identified with him.
"For us, as for the Argentines, Maradona is quite simply a god," explains Salvatore Esposito, a famous Neapolitan actor best known for the hit television series Gomorrah.
"In Naples, everyone grows up with the legend of Maradona in the hope of being able to imitate his dribbling. He helped kids have a dream, thus keeping them away from the bad things that exist in all the suburbs of the world."
He also had the chance to meet his idol, a "fan" of the series of which he is the great protagonist. "He was a man with a big heart," adds Esposito. "For me, meeting him was incredibly emotional and I'm happy to have shared that with my father and my mother."
Purchased then for £6.9 million by President Ferlaino, the Argentinian was presented on July 5, 1984 at the San Paolo. Single-handedly (almost), he brought Napoli to the top in Italy.
In 1987, the Partenopeo club won the Scudetto for the first time in its history, with a third Coppa Italia as a bonus. Two years later, Maradona this time took the club to success in Europe with a UEFA Cup title, before another domestic crown in 1990. Thanks to him, Naples was no longer laughed at by the big cities in northern Italy.
"Together, we have lived our best times," said Bianchi. "The memories come back to me as time goes by, and these are the most beautiful images. We were used to it, seeing him fall and then get up, as it happened several times in recent years. He always managed to dribble away from his problems, but not this time."
During his Neapolitan years, Maradona scored 115 goals in the Azzurro jersey, each more memorable than the last, in addition to forming a bond that continued with the city over the years. Like a priceless legacy, it is passed on from one generation to another.
A portrait of Diego Maradona in Naples
Image credit: Getty Images
A divine figure
For Naples and its inhabitants, the dreaded day arrived on Wednesday. Their Diego had gone. San Paolo will soon bear his name. Within a week, Napoli will play at the 'Diego Armando Maradona Stadium'. Because yes, it could not wait. When we talk about Maradona, everything suddenly takes a back seat in the city of Campania.
"It seems to me quite normal and justified, it is the path of Maradona which continues in Naples," said Bianchi, who has been very touched by the loss of the man.
"One day, I was on vacation in the Maldives. We visited a little lost place, where there was a hut with a family of 4-5 children. They had a radio and a balloon. The children played with it, and they said, 'I am Maradona!' There, you understand what that player represents."
Mirko, a 30-year-old Napoli fan, illustrates very well the stature of the famous number 10. "For us, he was like a divine apparition. When he arrived here, the city and the region were having great difficulty in recovering from the earthquake of 1980. He was our guide, everyone's army commander. He immediately understood what this city was and what it needed."
For Salvatore Esposito, the feeling is the same. "He's the greatest player of all time and he scored the goal of the century, I think that sums it all up. Maradona will always be in my heart and in that of this city."