Tears flow for Maradona, man who stood for 'nobodies'
An art teacher gives finishing touches to a painting of the late Argentinian football legend Diego Armando Maradona painted as a tribute after his death, in Mumbai on November 26, 2020. – Argentinian football legend Diego Maradona passed away on November 25, 2020. [Photo by Indranil MUKHERJEE, AFP]

Few places will mourn the death of Diego Maradona as much as Naples, the downtrodden, gritty Italian city that clasped the troubled Argentine to its heart at his time of need and was repaid with the best years of perhaps the greatest footballer to ever play the game.

Buildings around Naples are adorned with depictions of the man who took Napoli to the top of the Italian game and beyond and became an icon and spokesman for Neapolitans, whose chaotic city was feared and loathed in equal measure by the rest of Italy.

“I feel like I represented a part of Italy that didn’t count for anything,” he said in ‘Diego Maradona’, the 2019 Asif Kapadia documentary about his life in Naples.

So deep was ‘barrio boy’ Maradona’s attachment to Naples that he called Napoli’s first ever league title, won a year after he led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup, the “greatest triumph” of his career.

Surrounded by jubilant fans on the pitch of Napoli’s Stadio San Paolo, he explained why: “I won this one at my home.”

Maradona’s achievements at Napoli, who had been also-rans until he arrived in 1984 following a difficult two-year spell at Barcelona, cemented his position as the greatest player of his generation and, in many peoples’ eyes, make him the best ever.

Another league title in 1990 — pipping Arrigo Sacchi’s great AC Milan — the 1989 Uefa Cup and an Italian Cup also arrived during Maradona’s seven years in southern Italy, a golden age that has never come close to being repeated since.

Tears flow for Maradona, man who stood for 'nobodies'
A Diego Maradona’s fan cries after being injured during scuffles with the police while waiting to enter the Government House to pay tribute to late football legend Diego Armando Maradona in Buenos Aires, on November 26, 2020. – Diego Maradona’s coffin arrived at the presidential palace in Buenos Aires for a period of lying in state, TV reports showed. Hundreds of people were already lining up to pay their respects to Maradona, who died while recovering from a brain operation. [Photo by RONALDO SCHEMIDT, AFP]

Maradona’s 115 goals in all competitions was a club record that stood for 26 years and his heroics came at a time when Serie A was the world’s strongest, richest league, where the likes of Michel Platini and Zico strutted their stuff in front of bulging, bouncing stadiums.

He fled in disgrace in 1991, a failed drugs test, an unrecognised son and a billion-lira tax dispute all left back in Naples, where his penchant for late-night parties, cocaine and women were almost as famous as his magical displays on the pitch.

Courted by criminals, the King of Spain and even the Pope, Maradona became a quasi-religious figure in Naples. He brought joy to a desperately poor city blighted by bloody conflicts between the competing clans of the powerful Camorra organised crime network, one of whom Maradona would get to know very well.

Indeed the 1984 signing of a genuine superstar by Napoli — who were heavily in debt and had finished 11th the previous season — immediately raised eyebrows, with persistent rumours that a chunk of the world record $10.48 million fee that brought him to Italy came from the Camorra’s deep pockets.

The opening question in his first press conference came from a reporter who asked a confused Maradona whether he knew about the Camorra and its “influence on football” and was immediately ejected by livid club owner Corrado Ferlaino.

“I never asked for anything from the Camorra, they gave me the security of knowing that nothing was going to happen to my two children,” Maradona insisted in a 2017 interview to Italian TV station Canale 5.

Tears flow for Maradona, man who stood for 'nobodies'
Diego Maradona’s fans cry after paying their tribute to late football legend Diego Armando Maradona at the Government House in Buenos Aires, on November 26, 2020. [Photo by RONALDO SCHEMIDT, AFP]

However his access to drugs and women came thanks to the infamous Giuliano clan, who immediately befriended Maradona, furnished his burgeoning cocaine habit and went to great lengths to make sure they were photographed partying with the world’s most famous footballer.

Maradona himself admitted that every week he would binge from Sunday night until Wednesday, beginning an intense detox programme each Thursday that would get him ready for the following weekend’s match.

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