5th of July in the year 1984 is a date marked with red in the calendar of the Neapolitans: the arrival of Diego Armando Maradona to the Stadio San Paolo, after two seasons in FC Barcelona, became an event that transcended into the city. Beyond taking Napoli to old and worn-out laurels, Maradona achieved what even the most optimistic fan would not have been able to imagine until that moment.
He had left FC Barcelona in a somewhat unexpected way. His severe ankle injury and the subsequent sanction received after the “Pelusa” aggression against Athletic player Miguel Sola in the Copa del Rey final of that year precipitated his departure from the club, just when he was about to give the best of his career. But the fate, or in many ways the strong character of the young man of only 23 years of age, made the Argentinean live out the prime of his footballing career outside of the great Barcelona, but, most difficult still, he managed to make great a club that, until his arrival, had not passed a pair of cup trophies that were lost in the night of the times of memories of the oldest fans.
On the very day of his arrival, Naples had already given itself over to its new idol. The narrow and humid streets, so typically Mediterranean, began to welcome a popular iconography in the form of graffiti and murals dedicated to the Argentine genius in an eternal consecration to the figure of the great idol of the city. Even before making the team big and walking the name of the city with pride throughout Italy and even Europe, Maradona was already revered by the passionate and cultured Neapolitan population. The fans of Napoli immediately assumed Diego to be one of them.
However, the city had to wait some time to get their dreamed success. Maradona’s first year was good on the individual side (he managed 14 goals and was confirmed as the great player he already was), but the team did not manage to move from the middle of the table. What was shown by the “Pelusa” in that first season was enough for the team to lay the foundations for what would become the most glorious campaigns of its more than 60 years of history, ranging from 1986/87 to 1989/90 .
After the third place finish achieved by the club in ’85/86, Maradona came to the World Cup in Mexico aware that he was facing the great opportunity to definitively devote himself as the best player in the world. And he did not disappoint. Diego led his country to the world-wide championship, and returned to Italy as a grown up player, with the only objective to finally make Napoli champion.
The club obtained the first of its two Scudettos in the 1986/87 season, with Maradona as the indisputable leader of the modest team of the south and with Ottavio Bianchi in the bench. That season, in which the team also participated in the UEFA Cup, culminated in the Coppa triumph just a month after the side won the league title by defeating Atalanta 4-0.
With expectations sky-high, the next season wasn’t the best of Maradona in Napoli. The team could not go past the first round of the European Cup, in what was Maradona’s debut season in Europe’s elite club competition. Bad luck matched the Neapolitans with the Real Madrid, who got rid of the Italians with a resounding 3-1, with that already famous first leg played behind closed doors in the Bernabeu. Exclusively the centre of attention in the national competitions since practically the beginning of the season, the team did not manage to defend its Scudetto, and the title flew towards the north, to the Milan of Sacchi; Napoli’s finish of 2nd would be repeated the following season, 1988/89, the year in which they would also conquer Maradona’s first and only European title: the UEFA Cup (after winning against Stuttgart).
The main players of the team began to be tempted by the best teams in Europe, but the idol, Diego, remained faithful to the club that had made him great and which he had made great. An award to this fidelity shown by the star was the conquest of the second and, to date, the last Scudetto of Napoli. In the 1989/90 season, with Albertino Bigon replacing Ottavio Bianchi on the bench of San Paolo, the Neapolitan club got its second league title, its last great success, the last contribution of Diego Armando Maradona in making Napoli a big club in Italy.
The following season, 1990/91, after having gone through the complicated commitment to defeat the Italian team in San Paolo, before the eyes of his public in the semifinals of the World Cup, the Maradonian universe collapsed. Maradona tested positive for cocaine in a routine anti-doping test on March 17, 1991, after a game against Bari. The image of the best footballer of the moment assuming his guilt to the consternation of his people is football history. It would be the beginning of the end of the legend, of the idol. From there, the sporting life of Maradona fell into nonsense of which there were hardly any positives from thereon. In spite of everything, and leaving aside his sad and bitter end, the Neapolitan affection has not forgotten its greatest player. He made them big and proud, putting in check the powerful teams of the north and giving a name to the club of the populous southern city. Rarely has a football club owed so much to a single player.