It has been a long hard trek, but Napoli are now back amongst Italy's big boys. The city that elected Diego Armando Maradona as a deity with murals on every house had been starved of top flight football for years, but even after their bankruptcy and restart in Serie C in 2004, there were on average 50,000 supporters packing into the San Paolo.
The glory days of Napoli were the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Maradona reigned supreme with Antonio Careca, Ciro Ferrara, Andrea Carnevale and Salvatore Bagni. The first Scudetto arrived on May 10, 1987, when El Pibe de Oro was fresh from Argentina’s 1986 World Cup triumph. That year they also became the first team since Il Grande Torino and Juventus to do the Double with the Coppa Italia.
In 1989-90 Luciano Moggi took control and brought in more talents like Alemao and a young Gianfranco Zola for their second title, snatched from the grasp of Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan, and the UEFA Cup, followed by a crushing 5-1 Italian Super Cup victory over Juventus.
Maradona’s decline and departure coincided with some disastrous financial mismanagement and Napoli slowly crumbled until their relegation to Serie B and later bankruptcy in 2004. Movie mogul Aurelio De Laurentiis constructed an all-new club that within three years had climbed back into Serie A.
Under Edy Reja’s management the team returned to European competition via the UEFA Cup and Europa League whilst Walter Mazzarri’s term saw them progress into the Champions League.
Consecutive seasons under Rafa Benitez saw the team finish third and then fifth, both times 24 points behind champions Juventus. The Spaniard departed after the 2014-15 season to be replaced by up and coming Italian Coach Maurizio Sarri, after he impressively led Empoli to Serie A survival. He helped make them Scudetto contenders for most of the campaign, set new records and put them back in the Champions League.
Following Gonzalo Higuain’s controversial switch to rivals Juventus in 2016 there were fears the Partenopei would struggle, but Sarri’s men have gone from strength to strength, playing a brand of football that is second to none in the division.
With attacking triumvirate Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon in full flow, Napoli will be quietly confident they can push the champions all the way this season.