From 1986-87 to 1989-90, Napoli did not finish outside of the top two in Serie A and it was with Milan that their power was arguably most fiercely contested with during that time.
Unfortunately, the rivalry that made for some memorable clashes on the pitch, also accounted for some unsavoury moments away from it. In the winter of 1987-88, the defending League champions' Diego Maradona may have been the hero to have brought Napoli their first Scudetto the previous season, but he had his car smashed up in Naples, as one of a number of 'warnings' handed out to members of that team. Midfielder Salvatore Bagni was also notably targeted, suffering two burglaries, amongst other things.
These incidents, some of which were horrific in nature, were seen as rather unsubtle signs from the camorra, that Maradona, Bagni and his teammates needed to lose that season’s Scudetto or they would lose a lot more.
The various clans that ran the Totonero, black betting, throughout Italy would have had lost millions of pounds, if Napoli had won their second title in a row, after almost every Napoli citizen had bet on their heroes to win, and they just could not allow that.
At the time Napoli had only lost two games, had topped the table all season and in the days of two points for a win were four points ahead of Milan. Yet after the camorra version of a horse’s head in your bed, they lost four of their last five games, including a 3-2 reverse at the San Paolo to Milan and two without Maradona, which helped the Rossoneri lift their first title of many under Silvio Berlusconi.
It was just one of the many controversies that surrounded the rivalry between Napoli and Milan in the late 1980s when both were Serie A pace setters.
These years glorious on the pitch for both clubs saw legends like Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Roberto Donadoni lead the way for Milan, helping them secure a Scudetto, a runners-up spot and a third place as well as two European Cups. Backing them in their success was Serie A’s best ever back-line - Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Billy Costacurta and Mauro Tassotti, all coached by the incomparable Arrigo Sacchi.
The Partenopei themselves were equally fabulously represented by the Ma-Gi-Ca forward line of Diego Maradona, Careca and Bruno Giordano. Others included the Brazilian wizard Alemao, Andrea Carnevale, Fernando De Napoli, Ciro Ferrara and Gianfranco Zola, coached by first Ottavio Bianchi then Albertino Bigon, who led them to two titles, two runners-up spots and the UEFA Cup.
The second incident outside of the game that swayed the direction of the title happened on April 8, 1990 but this time Napoli won out. With our two antagonists neck and neck, the Vesuviani visited Atalanta and with the game heading for a 0-0 draw Alemao lined up to take a corner with 13 minutes left. All of a sudden he fell to the floor, as if an invisible giant has punched him, after a 50-lira coin thrown from the stands hit him on the head.
Napoli’s physio Salvatore Carmando raced across to the Brazilian and with Alemao’s forehead bleeding the ref stopped the match for several minutes. When the game restarted Gianfranco Zola came on as sub with Alemao still being looked at by the medical team. Finally the game finished 0-0 with Atalanta players later claiming the Napoli physio told Alemao to: “Stay down! Stay down!” Meanwhile, Milan were drawing with Bologna 0-0 with controversy there also, as the referee disallowed a seemingly perfectly legitimate goal for Bologna.
Two days later the sports tribunal board met and awarded Napoli a default 2-0 win, which saw them go ahead of Milan and claim their second Scudetto by two points. Milan contested the decision, claiming Alemao’s actions were clearly play-acting but to no avail despite using all the power Berlusconi’s Mediaset media organization could to darken Napoli’s name. However, whether Napoli were awarded the two points or not they would have still won the title by one point and if Bologna’s goal, that received no publicity at all, had counted Milan would still have lost it by two points.
However, Milan had the last laugh as over the next decade Napoli faded away with the exit of Maradona, while Milan went from strength to strength, winning four titles in five years and lifting successive European Cup Finals.
A few years ago with Milan fielding the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Antonio Cassano while Napoli had equally fabulous forwards like Marek Hamsik, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani, it looked like the on-pitch rivalry would reignite. Yet it never really happened and sadly for both teams at the moment, it seems that once again this weekend’s fixture will have none of the drama those past games brought.