Rising from the ashes – Part 2: Napoli

Winning a trophy means a lot to a club and its fans but winning the Coppa Italia is not just a trophy for the Azzurri, it’s the proof that the club has been successful in recapturing its former glory.

S.S.C. Napoli was founded in 1904, but didn’t enjoy its most successful era until the late 1980s. It was when the club broke the world transfer record fee bringing in the Argentine wizard Diego Maradona from Barcelona for a sum of €12 million.

The squad was rebuilt around Diego Maradona with players like Ciro Ferrara, Salvatore Bagni, and Fernando De Napoli joining in. The progress was gradual as the club finished third in 1986 but went to do the domestic double by securing the Serie A title by 3 points and then thrashing Atlanta by 4 goals to nil in the Coppa Italia finals.

The club’s first ever league win turned Maradona into an icon for the Neapolitans, which stretched beyond the realms of just football. The influence of Maradona was so immense that this golden era of Napoli is often termed by many as the “Maradona era”.

The Maradona inspired side went on to win another league title in 1990 after finishing runners-up on two consecutive occasions (1988, 89) but the success was not limited to the domestic arena only as the club went to win the UEFA Cup in 1990 beating clubs like Juventus, Bayern Munich and PAOK on their road to the finals. They defeated Stuttgart 5-4 on aggregate in the cup finals.

But eventually all good things come to an end.

Maradona left the club disgraced after he was tested positive for cocaine and was handed a fifteen months ban. Although the Azzurri won the Supercopa Italiana that year with a record 5-1 victory against Juventus and finished fourth in 1992, the decline had already started.

Since the end of the Maradona era the club was left with no projects and no strategies. They were facing financial problems and had heavy debts which were incurred due to heavy spending on new players in the previous decade, so the club was forced to sell its star players like Gianfranco Zola, Daniel Fonseca, Ciro Ferrara and Careca.

The club which had been the Italian champions in the previous decade, started to consistently flirt with relegation.

The club were relegated in 1998 but returned in 2000 under a new ownership, only to be sent back there after a season in the top flight. The club failed to gain promotion, and instead slipped further down the tiers.

By August 2004, Napoli were declared bankrupt with debts estimated up to €70 million.

In the hopes of securing the football in the city, Italian filmmaker Aurelio De Laurentiis re-founded the club under the name of Napoli soccer. Under his leadership, the club began its rise from the ashes.

The work was easier said than done. The supporters were fearful of another failed takeover but De Laurentiis was here to stay as he announced a two phase step by step project. The first step was to establish the club as a Serie A side and the second was to make the club strong enough to compete both in the domestic arena and in Europe.

De Laurentiis made sure that even though the club spent lavishly when required, they still maintained a healthy set of accounts to prevent the club from facing another financial trap. He made sure that the club maintained a salary cap and also the stadium was used to its full capacity unlike many council owned stadiums which have been in relatively poor state.

The club started off in Serie C1 and nearly made it back to the division they were kicked out of two years back, only to fail in the playoff stages. The club had at times more fans cheering them than for those clubs playing in the first division. With such a strong fan support, the club under the management of hard working coach, Edy Rija marched on to win the league title and gain automatic promotion to the Serie B.

It was when De Laurentiis bought back the club’s old name S.S.C. Napoli and in the process restored its history. The club gained another promotion the following year to reach the top flight of Italian football.

The club knew that their work had just started. Money was spent on young talented players like Ezequiel Lavezzi (€6m) and Marek Hamsik ( €5.5m). This didn’t go well with the club fans as they protested against the club’s over-cautious transfer policy, little did they know that these players were going to be the future stars of their team.

The club finished mid-table (eighth and twelfth respectively) for the next two seasons giving enough proof that the first phase of De Laurentiis’ plan was successfully finished.

The club went through some administrative changes as De Laurentiis was not convinced that he had the right people to lead the club ahead. Sporting director Pierpado Marino who was responsible for bringing in most of the then first team including Hamsik and Lavezzi was released and replaced by Riccardo Bigon. Coach Edy Reja was replaced by Roberto Donadoni who lasted only seven months. He was succeeded by current coach Walter Mazzarri under whom the team has progressed really well.

The club bought in local boy Fabio Quagliarella, to spearhead the attack in their unique 3-4-2-1 formation implemented by Mazzarri for a sum of €18 million. Quagliarella soon became a fan favourite after inspiring Napoli to a sixth place finish.

2010 brought in another crucial change for Napoli as Edinson Cavani was bought from Palermo (initially on loan). This was not considered as a popular move and led to demonstrations as Cavani took to pitch for the Europa League game against Elfsborg with the outgoing hero, Quagliarella, benched ahead of his impending transfer to Juventus. Cavani scored a brace and led Napoli to a 2-0 win which allowed them to march into the next round and it was perhaps the last time the Azzuri fans ever complained. Cavani finished the season with 33 goals in all competitions. The monstrous goal scoring abilities of Cavani were well complimented by the playmaking abilities of Marek Hamisk and the pace and trickery of Lavezzi as the club finished third and lifting the club back among the Europe’s elite after a long absence. The attack was well supported by a strong defence led by club captain Paolo Cannavaro and Hugo Campagnaro.

Napoli had to face the “group of death” in Champions league group stages, but the club managed to qualify for the next round beating big-spenders Manchester City to the second spot behind Bayern Munich. The club had an overall impressive campaign, nearly knocking out eventual champions Chelsea in the round of 16.

The shift of focus towards the Champions League resulted in a slight backward step in Serie A, but it can’t be blamed on anybody as any squad needs time to adjust to such a hectic schedule but the club still managed to finish fifth.

The most important achievement for Napoli came when they defeated the unbeaten league champions, Juventus 2-0 in the finals of Coppa Italia to lift their first trophy in nearly twenty two years.

Napoli for now can enjoy the recent success but some tough testing times lie ahead as the club will need to fight to hang on to their star players who are continuously linked with moves to various top clubs across Europe where they will surely be presented with a chance to earn more and have better shot at glory than they currently have at the San Paolo.  Apart from that De Laurentiis also appears to have recognized the need to upgrade the club’s academy as they can’t continue to rely on gambles made on bringing in new players at exorbitant prices.

Projects like these take time to come to fruitation and De Laurentiis knows that as he recently stated that the club would “not change its initial plan of gradual growth”.

So with an impressive squad, a loyal fan-base and a very dedicated owner the club are certainly moving on in the right direction in what we can surely term as the ‘De Laurentiis’ era’.

– by Pranav Agarwal

6 thoughts on “Rising from the ashes – Part 2: Napoli

  1. Excellent post. I was checking continuously this blog and Im impressed! Extremely helpful info specially the last part I care for such information a lot. I was seeking this certain information for a long time. Thank you and best of luck.

  2. Pingback: Rising From The Ashes – Part 3: Newcastle United « The Football Addict

  3. Pingback: Rising From The Ashes – Part 3: Newcastle United | The Football Addict

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