Whilst the city of Naples continued her long wait for another Serie A title this season, the fans were at least allowed to dream again as Gonzalo Higuain wrote his name into the history books.
Pipita spearheaded the attack of a squad that pushed Juventus all the way, even if they fell at the last hurdle. Serie A’s Capocannoniere has amassed a record-shattering 36 goals in 35 games and in turn made the San Paolo a much more dangerous ground to go to than it already was.
Gunnar Nordahl’s record of 35 goals in a single Serie A season, set with Milan in 1949-50, has finally come crashing down after 66 years. With Hollywood movie timing, he chose the final match of the season to score his first hat-trick of the campaign and set the new record with a spectacular overhead kick. As the Sky Sport Italia commentators screamed: “No way! This is like a film script! It can’t be real!”
What he has done for the Partenopei this season is more than simply score goals; he has given the side back its soul.
To say Naples is a hot bed of Italian football is an understatement. Italy’s fourth-biggest supported club is passionate, flamboyant and above all they are fighters. This is perhaps why they have always flocked to see foreign stars who have been creative and devastating on the pitch. From Attila Sallustro, Luis Vicino, Omar Sivori, Jose Altafini, Careca and Edinson Cavani to the ‘King of Naples’, Diego Maradona, they loved an icon.
This season, watching an Argentine forward catapult them towards what looked for a while like being their first title since the great man left has unleashed a fireball of nostalgia, belief and support that resonates loudly from the archaic stadium. He has truly earned his place in the pantheon of Napoli icons.
Higuain may have scored 36 goals and got four assists in the league, but it is the consistency that will please him the most. After missing guilt-edge chances and arguably costing his country the World Cup Final and the Copa America, it seemed like he was developing a reputation as a ‘choker’.
Personally he will be overjoyed with his deadly aim this year, as he has put these rumours to bed. Out of his 36 Serie A goals, 31 of them have come from inside the box, most of them centrally and 23 of them with his right foot. The supporting cast in Naples have had one job, get the ball in the box to Higuain and he will score.
One of the most iconic scenes this season has been the barrel-chested striker wheeling away in celebration as the bright red flares and smoke bombs light up the San Paolo. As ‘Decibel Bellini’ the announcer bellows ‘GON-ZA-LO’ the stadium replies, ‘HIG-UI-AN’.
The strike rate is incredible, the title chase was exciting, but it is the belief and memories that are important in Naples.