Marco Baroni headed a ball past a diving goalkeeper in Naples several years ago to give Napoli the lead against Lazio by one goal. With such joy, Napoli fans erupted into a frenzy.
In a 1-0 victory, the defender scored with a powerful header. The three points secured Napoli’s top spot in Serie A, two points ahead of AC Milan, which also won that day.
In doing so, Baroni won the club’s second Italian league title, immortalizing the club’s golden era, which was led by the great Diego Maradona.
However, the joy of those two Scudetto titles did not last very long: Without winning that elusive third title, Napoli endured relegations, financial difficulties, near-misses, superstar departures, and other setbacks.
That was prior to this year. Led by the unimaginable Nigerian Victor Osimhen, the cryptic Georgian Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and coach Luciano Spalletti, Napoli has cavorted to the Serie A title, finishing 33 years in the wild.
Bellini’s videos announcing Napoli’s goal scorers during games have become increasingly popular over the past few years. Because of the enthusiasm shown by both parties, his “call and response” style with the fans gives viewers goosebumps.
For instance, more than six million people have watched a video on YouTube in which Bellini refers to Gonzalo Higuain, a former striker for Napoli. In the video, Bellini calls out the Argentine player’s first name nine times, and the Napoli fans yell back the player’s surname.
“It will be not just the first time Napoli has won the title since Maradona, but the first time the true south has won, if you’re not counting Rome” Kirsten Schlewitz – Napoli fan and author of the upcoming book ‘More Than Maradona: The Birth, Death and Rebirth of SSC Napoli’ – said in an interview.
“It is a big deal for the city as a whole to have that pride and to be able to say: ‘Look, we can do it too. You don’t need to be the rich northerners. We assembled a smart squad.’
“It’s not a club where teams can just come in and pick off their players and there’s an incredible pride in Napoli developing, Napoli finding the good players, not so much for the youth squad, but being able to be that smart team that can build a competitive squad without … spending big money on players who are over the hill.
“So there’s that pride in being able to say: ‘Yeah, but yeah the south did this and the south did this in a different way.’”
On the day of a home game, not much gets done, whether it’s the fervent fans crammed into the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium on matchdays or the hordes of fans who race through the streets after Napoli’s victory.
Bellini claims that Naples’ vice-like hold on the city is due to the fact that it only hosts Napoli, a major team, unlike most other Serie A cities.
He gives an explanation,
“Milan has two, Turin have two, Rome have two and Genoa also have two,” he explains. “Naples is the only big, big, big city in Italy where we have just one club. And this is very important for us and all the people here support Naples.”
Consequently, every home match is like a football festival, with fans reveling in their favorite Napoli players’ brilliant performances in white shorts and sky-blue shirts.
They have had a number of amazing players over the years, most notably the diminutive genius Maradona, who has dazzled and astonished everyone. In 1984, the Argentinean player moved to the south of Italy from Barcelona for a record-breaking $10.5 million.
Napoli experienced unprecedented success under Maradona, which culminated in the team’s title victory in 1987; first ever Scudetto for the club.
Bellini recalls how, when he was six years old, he and his growing Napoli fandom celebrated the victory.
“I stayed on the balcony in my house with my flag, and you can find the picture on Instagram. With my flag on the balcony without possibility to do something or do fiesta or with the supporters, because I was very, very little. But very happy. Very proud. When I was born, I was born with Maradona and that Napoli and, always in my life, I support Naples.”
Napoli regained the title three years later, this time with Maradona at the helm.
That run of success was an opportunity for the region to proudly express its time at the top, for a city and football club that had frequently been looked down upon by its northern rivals.
According to the Gentleman Ultra website, when Napoli won its first Serie A title in 1987, it read: Juventus’ mock funerals were held in the city. Finally, Naples responded to their domineering Northern rivals by saying, The other Italy was defeated in May 1987, and a new empire was established.
However, that four-year period turned out to be an anomaly rather than a pattern.
The Difficult Years:
The Napoli team began to falter a year after winning the title in 1990, with players leaving and performances declining.
After failing a drug test and receiving a 15-month ban, Maradona left Italy in disgrace, marking the most significant departure.
The team finished 34 games with a meager 14 points and was relegated from Serie A after years of steady decline. Napoli was relegated to the second division just eight years after winning the Italian title.
However, Napoli’s disappointment did not end there. The club was declared bankrupt for the second year in a row, which resulted in its relegation to the third tier of Italian football. Despite a brief resurgence in the top flight during the 2000/01 season, the team was immediately relegated after their first season back in Serie A.
Although the club had tumbled to its most reduced league position in its history tracing all the way back to the 1920s, Bellini says the massive support around the club never suffered.
Napoli Came Back Again:
Naples emerged from the rubble; spearheaded by a hero who seemed like a complete joke. Aurelio De Laurentiis, an Italian film tycoon, swooped in to save the club when its finances were at their lowest point with the intention of restoring stability and glory.
And De Laurentiis followed through with his commitments, bringing Napoli back into the Italian first class in three years and into European competitions in the subsequent year back in Serie A.
De Laurentiis’ straightforward way to deal with running the club has brought achievement but has also brought pressure. Fans and De Laurentiis have been in constant conflict about new proposed ticket prices although an image posted on the owner’s Twitter account recommends that that pressure has been settled until further notice.
Schlewitz says that despite any friction against the owner, “a whole lot is going to be forgiven” with the title victory.
The club became one of Italy’s best thanks to smart moves with players and smart coaching decisions.
Napoli fans have witnessed a rotating cast of elite managers, including Walter Mazzarri, Rafael Benitez, Maurizio Sarri, and Carlo Ancelotti, on the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium pitch in the 16 years since the club’s return to Serie A. These elite managers include Edinson Cavani, Higuain, Dries Mertens, and Marek Hamk.
However, despite their success in the cup, Napoli never managed to reclaim the elusive Scudetto due to the dominance of northern Italian clubs.
Bellini stated, “It’s very, very hard to win in Italy because the north of Italy has a high representation of teams like Juventus, Milan, and Inter, and it’s very hard to (win) in the south.”
“For example, Roma or Lazio in the center of Italy have only two or three times won the title because it is very, very difficult to win against the north; against the money, power of those clubs. And when we had Maradona in our club, we did this. We win against the against Juventus, against Milan, against Inter.”
The midfield trio of Stanislav Lobotka, André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, and Piotr Zieliski have all previously flattered to deceive, and Kim Min-jae arrived from Turkey in the summer to transform the defense into one of the league’s most formidable. Napoli has blown away the domestic competition behind a previously unheralded squad.
However, according to Schlewitz, left back Mário Rui is the team’s unheralded star. Under Sarri, Rui joined the team in 2017, but he has changed this season.
Schlewitz claimed that Mario Rui’s numerous errors made him dislike him when he arrived in 2017. He is 31 now, and it appears as though he has matured into the player he was always meant to be. Schlewitz is simply happy that the team had confidence to keep him around in light of the fact that he’s sort of the anchor point. In addition, he is not their captain by name, but rather in spirit.
Bellini says the huge lead the team established after last year’s World Cup break allowed fans to dream before Thursday’s draw sealed the title victory.
Over 30 years after Maradona led Napoli to its last Serie A title, Osimhen, Kvaratskhelia and company have done the same to end the heartache of some of Italy’s most passionate fans.
Bellini, who has worked inside the Napoli stadium and with the team for about 14 years and is a fervent fan, said that this moment had been coming for a long time. He also said that he has an idea of how he will tell the stadium about the team winning the title when they play at home for the first time as champions.
“I’ve dreamed of this moment since when I was young, and especially since when I start to do this job with Naples, I dreamed this whole night. “This is special.”