During the warm up before the UEFA Cup semi-final with Bayern Munich in 1989, Napoli’s Diego Maradona turned to his teammates and took out any tension they may have felt by leading them in a dance. The minute the German club’s PA blasted out ‘Live is Life’ by Opus, Diego started clapping his hands, swivelling his hips and basically bursting with bliss in front of 70,000 fans.
The feelings he shared in those glory days must have been similar to those that Napoli players felt in the Italian Super Cup, as they celebrated their two classy goals en masse. The togetherness they also displayed by later refusing to accept their medals in protest at some rather wayward refereeing was understandable. And whether you condone their actions or not the demonstration of solidarity amongst them can only be an advantage in one of the toughest seasons to call in Serie A for a while. On the other hand Juve’s no-show, after they lost to Lazio in the 1998 version, failed to help them much, as they finished sixth that season.
There is no way Aurelio de Laurentiis would be happy with that and when he took over Napoli he ignited a new fire inside the Azzurri belly and it still burns. After moving up through two divisions and last year’s classy Champions League’s performances, he also sorted out their finances. Now the President wants the Partenopei to return to that heady era when Diego and Napoli topped the League, won Cups and made an impression in Europe.
“I’m strongly motivated for the new season, the Scudetto should be everyone’s goal,” declared the President. “We will also be one of the two teams to qualify automatically for the Champions League, and we will do well in the Coppa Italia and Europa League.”
Backing his Coach Walter Mazzarri over the summer with the return of Lorenzo Insigne, De La also paid out over €30m for four excellent players in pursuit of those aims. Coincidentally the same amount he got for Ezequiel Lavezzi, which meant he balanced the books once again.
He was rewarded for this outlay as the team certainly shone in pre-season, employing a slightly different version of the 3-5-1-1 system. Starting with beating top sides like Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen and Bordeaux, the Vesuviani finished by coping well with a strong Juve side for 90 minutes in China.
It’s a formation that seems to fit the players and looks to be the way forward with a strong midfield featuring an extra man, compared to the 3-4-2-1 of last year. With Gokhan Inler starting attacks from deep, flanked by Marek Hamsik and Valon Behrami, they can supply the forwards as well as provide an extra wall in front of the defence. All three are more than capable in possession and with others like Andrea Dossena, Blerim Dzemaili, Juan Zuniga, Christian Maggio and Walter Gargano, Mazzarri will be spoilt for choice in midfield.
Up front, the all-round striking capabilities of Edinson Cavani and Goran Pandev, along with Insigne and Eduardo Vargas means he will also be well covered in attack.
“I am happy with the squad, it is good enough to negate any problems,” former Sampdoria boss Mazzarri has insisted. “Of course if a player is good enough to add something extra to the squad we will attempt to bring him in. We want to get off to a good start this season and success causes self-esteem to grow as well as bringing prestigious trophies.”
Certainly, despite the disappointment of the Super Cup defeat there was enough there to see that Napoli have a lot of potential. De La has promised an addition here and there and with those plus the dynamic Hamsik, Pandev, Cavani and Behrami, surely Napoli can force the pace in the League and also please their President.