90min

Napoli's Title Ambitions Are a Fitting & Realistic Tribute to Diego Maradona

Max Cooper
Maradona is the ultimate Napoli hero
Maradona is the ultimate Napoli hero / MB Media/Getty Images
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There has been no shortage of tributes flooding in since the death of Argentina and SSC Napoli legend Diego Maradona.

The man widely acknowledged as the greatest footballer in history passed away on 25 November, and the sporting world has desperately been trying to conjure a just and meaningful way of paying homage to his legacy.

Stadio San Paolo in the aftermath of Maradona's death
Stadio San Paolo in the aftermath of Maradona's death / Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez have shown off the legend's jersey upon scoring, Argentina have commissioned a bank note to be printed with the World Cup winner's face emblazoned across it, and Napoli have changed the name of their stadium to commemorate his impact on the city.

While all fitting tributes, there is one long-term project which could top everything that has gone before it over the past few weeks - and it may already be well under way in the city of Naples.

No one in Europe was hit harder by Maradona's passing than Naples and its people. The Argentine was more than just a man in the city, he was a deity, worshipped not only for his impact on the football team, but his desire to identify with his followers and fight their corner both on and off the field.

An icon
An icon / Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Indeed, his seven years in Naples were the club's most successful in their history, winning two Serie A titles and a UEFA Cup - neither of which had been lifted before, nor since his reign.

Understandably, he is remembered as the most important figure in the club's existence, and everything that has occurred since has had to pass the 'Maradona Test' of greatness. So far, no one has come close to matching his achievements.

His goalscoring record has been broken twice, most recently by current Napoli forward Dries Mertens, but these statistics mean little without something concrete alongside them.

But in honesty, has there ever been a better opportunity for I Partenopei to end their scudetto drought, and win the title in honour of their departed legend?

Napoli have made an exciting start to the new season
Napoli have made an exciting start to the new season / Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Napoli started the season in electric form, hammering every team in their wake and demonstrating the perfect balance between blistering attack and ruthless defence. Attacking stars Dries Mertens, Victor Osimhen and Hirving Lozano hit the ground running, while the potential of the defensive partnership of Kalidou Koulibaly and Kostas Manolas finally came to fruition.

A 6-0 drubbing of Genoa was the perfect warm up for their huge clash with Juventus, but Gennaro Gattuso's men were instead docked a point and handed a 3-0 defeat for failing to travel to Turin due to coronavirus complications.

That result remains one of the few blots on this season's copybook, along with defeats to high-flying Sassuolo and Milan. Those setbacks knocked the wind out of Napoli's sails, and many began to doubt their title credentials.

Those concerns have diminished however, as Gattuso's men appear reinvigorated and are now playing without fear in the midst of one of the darkest moments in the club's history.

Maradona's death could have cast a cloud over the squad, but instead they have rallied and embodied his fearless and carefree spirit on the pitch. And no one has followed the former leader's example more than current captain Lorenzo Insigne.

The Naples-born star is the bandiera of this side, and the expectations are mounting on the 29-year-old to mark his legacy with some meaningful silverware. Perhaps he senses that the time is now to launch the most daring of attacks on Juventus' crown, with I Bianconeri in transition under a rookie coach, and other rivals yet to hit their stride.

Maybe that sensation dawned upon him on 29 November, as he pulled on the Maradona and Argentina inspired blue and white Napoli jersey to face AS Roma, and delivered a performance that the man himself would have enjoyed.

Insigne kicked off the scoring on that emotional evening with a brilliant free kick, curling the ball over the wall and into the far corner of Antonio Mirante's goal. The captain put in a display of such joy and love for the game, almost as if he was aware of his own mortality and just how fleeting his time at the top may be.

Napoli destroyed Roma on that evening, putting four past I Giallorossi and dazzling Serie A viewers with their free-flowing and swashbuckling approach to the game. As if to truly announce their place among the title favourites however, I Partenopei recreated their heroics against Paulo Fonseca's side, hitting another four away at Crotone in the very next matchday.

It was Insigne who once again got the ball rolling, crashing a vintage curling strike into the top corner from the edge of the box. It was everything we've come to expect from the Italian when he's at his best, and he's starting to hit that level ever more frequently.

Inspiring his side to greatness
Inspiring his side to greatness / Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

Certainly, the narrative is pointing towards a new title winner this season. Old man Zlatan Ibrahimovic has returned to bring glory back to Milan, Antonio Conte is putting all his Inter eggs in the Serie A basket, and Atalanta have been building towards a proper title tilt for some time.

But the sweetest, most satisfying narrative of them all is that of local boy Insigne, lifting the Serie A trophy in the church of Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, all in the name of his late idol and inspiration.

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