Napoli coach Gennaro Gattuso paid tribute to Diego Armando Maradona after the 2-0 win over Rijeka. ‘He will live forever, like all legends.’
There was an emotional minute’s silence before kick-off in the Europa League match, but above all the thousands who came out to lay flowers and pay their respects outside the Stadio San Paolo, soon to be renamed after Maradona.
“I have many wonderful memories of Diego, we had dinner together a few times. He died, but will never die, because he was an extraordinary person. He made some mistakes in life, but so does everyone,” Gattuso told Sky Sport Italia.
“Even yesterday driving through the city, you could tell the atmosphere was completely different. Diego came from another planet and he will live forever, like all legends, and I hope he’ll say hello to my sister up there. My only regret is I never got to tackle him on the pitch...
“This is our work, it is our duty to continue and look forward. We’ll play every three days. We hope to dedicate a trophy to him as soon as possible.
“Diego wasn’t the man who won the Scudetto, he was the best player in the world who wore the Napoli jersey, represented this city and made a whole generation dream when the trophies all went to the northern clubs.
“I don’t know if San Gennaro or Diego Armando Maradona is more important for this city, with all due respect to the Saint.
“It is a remarkable city, it feels like living in Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires. There’s the smell of food and the sound of life 24 hours a day, there’s such passion and warmth. I’ve been living in the north for many years, but I remain a Terrone (southerner) inside.”
Matteo Politano opened the scoring, albeit with a decisive deflection, before Hirving Lozano secured the 2-0 result.
“All games are difficult, because even against a local side, it’s going to be tough if you don’t approach it the right way.
“This performance was much better than three weeks ago away to Rijeka, but we still made far too many mistakes and got pig-headed trying to find through balls. It was certainly an improvement.”
There were reports this week that Gattuso had argued with his players, something the club firmly denied.
“Things were said that simply weren’t true. I don’t argue with my players, I simply told them what I thought. I said we need to see the same spirit whether we’re 1-0 up or 1-0 down. They know what I think, I tell them all the time in training.
“We’ve won eight of our last 11 games, but if people think we are Galacticos or like Barcelona, they are badly wrong. What I want to see is hunger, the desire to help each other out and work together.”