Emotional Naples hails famous son

Emotional Naples hails famous son

NAPLES • Few places will mourn the death of Diego Maradona as much as Naples, the downtrodden, gritty Italian city that clasped the troubled Argentinian to its heart at his time of need and was repaid with the best years of one of the greatest footballers.

Few players have had such an extraordinary influence on a club as the 60-year-old had during his seven years with Napoli.

The club won their only two Serie A titles (1987, 1990) and their only major European trophy – the 1989 Uefa Cup – while he was there but there was far more to it than those bare statistics.

Raised in dire poverty in Buenos Aires, Maradona always took the side of the oppressed, which made Napoli, sneered at by the richer clubs from northern Italy, the perfect team for him.

So was Naples, whose longstanding connections with the Italian mafia gave it a reputation it still finds hard to shake off till today, yet to the 1986 World Cup winner, it reminded him of his origins.

Buildings around the city are adorned with depictions and murals of the man who gave its residents hope when there was none.

Even though gatherings remain banned as Naples has been classified as a Covid-19 “red zone”, hundreds of Napoli fans congregated on the streets.

Many more lit candles outside San Paolo Stadium, laying flowers and wreaths, and setting off fireworks and flares as they paid tribute to the Serie A club’s greatest player on Wednesday.

In a sign of mourning, Napoli changed its usual blue logo on its Twitter account to black, tweeting “now is the moment for tears” and there are “no words we can use for the pain that we are experiencing”.

Naples Mayor Luigi de Magistris immediately ordered that the stadium’s lights be turned on all night and a day of mourning took place yesterday.

With the blessing of Napoli president Aurelio de Laurentiis, he yesterday began the formal process to rename the stadium in honour of Maradona.

“We are already putting it together this morning, taking the first steps to dedicate Naples stadium to Maradona,” Mr de Magistris said. “We’re hoping to make it (the process) coincide with the resumption of games with fans.

“Yes, he was also a controversial man. But for us, Maradona is the one who made Naples and Neapolitans dream – with his genius, his uniqueness, he gave us happiness.

“Many have named their sons Diego, for he was able to redeem a city that was often the target of prejudices and discrimination.”

Other famous Neapolitans paid homage to the city’s favourite son, who became an honorary citizen in 2017.

Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro said: “Maradona is a God to the people of Naples. Maradona changed history.”

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS