Diego Maradona: The Hand-Picked God Who Gave a Voice to the Downtrodden People of Naples

Nov 26, 2020, 9:25 AM GMT
Diego Maradona
The great man himself | Etsuo Hara/Getty Images
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It's almost impossible for any outsider to comprehend just how revered one man can be in a city.

Every town, city and country has its heroes, who are hassled for pictures and signatures on the streets, and have difficulty living a typical, day-to-day life. But no man has suffered that burden more than Diego Maradona in Naples.

Diego Maradonna
A Maradona flag | Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

That is not a slight against the citizens of that wonderful place - far from it. They welcomed a simple, ordinary man into their ranks, and transformed him into a God. Sadly, immortality is only for the truly divine, and on November 25, 2020, Diego Armando Maradona left us.

But the relationship between man and city transcended football. The Argentinian superstar became an adopted Neapolitan. He immersed himself in the vibrant, wholesome and frenetic culture of Italy's neglected region, and promised to turn the country on its head.

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 shrouded his time in Spain. And it was a mass brawl in front of the Spanish king which brought the curtain down on his time in Catalonia, and Maradona was sent packing to Italy.

When asked what he was hoping to find upon his move to Naples, the Argentine responded, "peace." He definitely chose the wrong city for that. Napoli is a buzzing, cacophony of noise, life and soul. It is home to millions of salt of the earth, genuine men and women, who burst with pride at being Napoletano.

It is a badge of honour they wear with pleasure and a beaming smile - even if it has not come without its hardships. Naples was the poverty-stricken, downtrodden, unkept little brother of Italy, who was often the nation's afterthought in times of crisis. Their people were made to feel inferior and beneath the richer northerners, who looked down at the hard-working folk of this area.

They were a poor victim, suppressed into silence, and left without a voice. And then Maradona came long.

For the people of Napoli, football was the be all and end all. They woke up, went to work and saved up their salary each week, all with the end goal of going to San Paolo on a Sunday afternoon to watch their beloved heroes take to the field.

Maradona's arrival signalled a new era for the city. They went from a poor, middle of the road side to title contenders in a few years. They could compete with those wealthier than themselves and entered these battles as deserved equals, rather than the scraggly fratellino.

They were ready to make some noise in Italy.

The Argentine was the metaphorical clenched fist of an entire population, shouting and screaming into the night, finally making their voices. Every Sunday, opposing fans would take aim and launch their insults against the people of Napoli, and every Sunday, Maradona would stick a middle finger up to the enemy, sending them home pointless and humiliated.

Diego Maradona
A clenched fist for all of Naples | Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

He was the beating heart of this city. He was the rage, the anger, the oppression, the ambition of millions of people, and he channelled those pent-up emotions, allowing them to spill out onto football pitches all over Italy and wreak havoc.

He was the victory for the poor, he was the voice for the silenced.

Maradona grew to become the best player in the world during his time at Napoli. And as a thank you to the city that welcomed him, worshipped him and hung on his every word, he delivered them something only a true deity could conjure - a Scudetto.

Not just one, in fact, but two. The forward carried a previously mid-table Partenopei side to glory in 1987 and 1990, winning the Serie A title on both occasions, while they also conquered Europe by lifting the UEFA Cup in 1989.

He was able to do what no other player had ever attempted to achieve. He took a middling, average group of players, and turned them all into heroes. He made every man by his side feel 10-foot tall, and radiated an imperious aura and an unshakeable winning mentality, the likes of which have rarely been seen.

He gave hope and faith to an entire city, a people hungry for justice and revenge.

And of course, there was no stopping him with the ball at his feet. But waxing lyrical about his footballing abilities feels erroneous. We all know how good he was, and the next generations will all be treated to videos of his magic, too.

It was his connection with a city that really sets him apart. A wander through the streets of Naples would trick you into thinking Maradona will still be pulling on the number 10 jersey this season for I Partenopei.

Posters, paintings, murals, key rings, toys for children, animals, and all sorts of memorabilia and souvenirs bear the face of the great man. Every street you turn down offers a different type of memory and ode to their hero.

Every wall is plastered with his face, every jersey 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 complexion etched across them, the supporters still sing his name like they did when he slammed the ball into the top corner of the net. Every modern day memorable goal or action is compared to 'the one Maradona did that time against' whichever unfortunate party felt the full force of his left boot on that occasion.

Maradona and Naples became one. The man known for his extravagant, chaotic approach to life, found his rightful home in the most chaotic and hectic of cities. The two crossed paths, and held onto one other so tight that they propelled each other and themselves to heights which were previously unattainable.

SSC Napoli v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg
Just a typical street in Naples | Michael Steele/Getty Images

And when they parted ways - at least in body - they had achieved everything and more they had set out to master. The little guy had won, against all the odds. A city had risen, and the world had taken notice.

Even now that Maradona has left us, his story will be passed down from Grandfather to father, father to son, and will live on as long as the great city of Naples continues to breathe life.

Goodbye Diego, and thank you for everything.

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