Tuesday 22 November 2011

Napoli's New Dreams

Soaring...Edinson Cavani of Napoli
You could say it was unexpected.  But you would be denying about 60,000 Neapolitans who were at the San Paolo on Tuesday.  They expected something big from Napoli, from Edinson Cavani, from Ezequiel Lavezzi, and from their poetic faith--and all things fulfilled.  Napoli have beaten Manchester City 2-1 to inch closer to the next round of the Champions League.  The group of death has finally witnessed vitality and life in what is now one of the most feared arenas in Europe.

The deafening rapture in the San Paolo at the final whistle was a giant exhale from a fanbase still breathing, defiantly and loudly, in the post-Maradona age.  Since the Argentinian left Naples two Scudetti and a UEFA Cup twenty years ago, Napoli have seen financial ruin, Serie B, and even Serie C1; and now they have seen a night like this.  It wasn't even a win in a knockout phase of Europe's premier competition, but it was a nudge against one of the opulent European powers.  For a club so used to a narrative that looks back nostalgically at the good old days of Maradona, performing so triumphantly in the present must be an experience to savour.

It wasn't only the fact that they could have beaten Manchester City 5-1 had Lavezzi, Marek Hamsik and Christian Maggio taken fairly easy chances.  It was also that they played City like they wanted to play them: at a safe distance, expertly muzzling a team that had disfigured Manchester United 6-1 at Old Trafford a few weeks ago.  Even City's solitary goal was a mistake, a blip, coming from their host's largesse as Salvatore Aronica miscued a clearance, sending it into the path of David Silva, whose shot was parried for Mario Balotelli to tap in.

That was City's only success, and it came after Cavani had headed Napoli into the lead from a corner earlier in the first half.  Admittedly, there was an element of luck in Cavani's goal, as the ball had only grazed the head of the skeletal Uruguayan, but it was enough to creep in at the near post.

Yet, after such a break, City's equalizer should have extinguished Neapolitan hope.  However, with the second half came more Cavani, straight, diagonally, and relentlessly.  And with him came Lavezzi, Andrea Dossena, and Maggio.  Napoli's second goal, the already-hallowed winner, was a sumptuous Lavezzi-Dossena-Cavani combination, a combination that the vaunted Silva couldn't mastermind all night for his team. Lavezzi found a surging Dossena who crossed for Cavani to pounce on, and he did, first-time to leave Joe Hart with no chance.

Even after that, however, City had fourty-one minutes to strike back, but their coach Roberto Mancini sulked and sunk on the sidelines, watching Lavezzi stretch Hart in the City goal, and a post thwart Marek Hamsik.  He also watched Walter Mazzarri take all the plaudits as the night's more astute technician.  This is Mazzarri's first real shot at Europe, and he completely dominated a man who has been here before--and failed before several times with Inter.

When the draw for this group was made many predicted Napoli to finish last in it.  That they sit in second going into the final matchday, their fate in their own hands, is already an astounding achievement.  If they beat Villarreal and pip a Manchester City team worth a billion euros to the second round, it will send a heart-warming message to the football world.

Joy in Naples...Napoli players celebrate
Since the summer of 2008, Manchester City's ascendancy has been brisk for their fans.  Success, forged and maintained by owners from Abu Dhabi who show no signs of tightening finances despite staggering losses, has culminated in them sitting atop the Premiership, five points ahead of their once unsurpassable rivals, Manchester United.  However, it was Napoli's fluency, their overall coherence, that overwhelmed City.  That is not to say that City are not gelling; rather, they are, which makes Napoli's collective dominance over them even more remarkable.

Mazzarri's side attacked when it had to, defended obdurately when it had to, and won when it had to.  They had already beaten Milan and Inter this season, but this win probably meant the most to Napoli's president, Aurelio De Laurentiis.  He is the man who rescued them from Serie C1 a few years ago, investing, but keeping an eye on his club's long-term health.  The movie producer is an innovator in a country with a predilection for the anachronistic.  While the private ownership of stadia law, Legge Crimi, awaits approval in Parliament, De Laurentiis is already in advanced talks with the city of Naples to take ownership of Stadio San Paolo.  He also has a vision for a youth academy that would nurture potential at all levels. A night like the one against City vindicates all his work, and not least his often bellicose praise of Napoli.

Italian football has suffered and is currently suffering, sitting behind the Bundesliga now in the UEFA coefficient rankings.  While the Premiership's luster continues to blind, Serie A as a brand is struggling.  Yet, as far as footballing philosophy is concerned, clubs like Napoli prove that their approach on the field is as modern as any European club's.  A team that sits seventh in a very competitive Serie A this year has defeated a club that sits at the top of a league that many consider the best in the world.

Quite simply, when it came down to it, Napoli meant more business than the richest club in the world.


  1. I hate Napoli, but am happy with their victory in Europe, and particularly this one. It is always nice to see that football beats money, and not to forget that Italian Calcio needed this victory so badly.

  2. Napoli hate you too Xudong...rest assured.

  3. Awesome article, Hasan!

  4. Great read! Thoroughly enjoyable! Thanks.

  5. How is Dossena performing since he returned to Italian soil? Another example of a player who was panned by the English press because of their dislike of Rafa Benitez and maybe two poor performances. My impression of him was of a competent defender who was confident going forward with a decent cross. Also, he scored the 4th goal for Liverpool on two occasions in the space of one week when we put 4 past Real and United in 2009. This was the zenith of Rafa's reign and the closest Liverpool came to his ultimate philosophy - akin to his La Liga winning Valencia side who were aggressively dogged without the ball and attacked with a swift fluidity when the chance arose. I really thought he was going to get us that Premiership title and was devastated with his departure.

  6. Dossena is doing okay at Napoli, but he is not first choice.  Campagnaro is first choice and with some justification.  He is solid. Dossena against City though was amazing.  Mind you, Mazzarri has used three at the back at times this season, a set-up that found Dossena in midfield.

    That Valencia team was something else--Baraja, Vicente, Aimar, Canizares in goal...fluent, like you say, but also tenacious.  Aimar has never been the same since, but he is slowly coming back at Benfica.