Monday, 20 October 2008

[Feature] Napoli dreaming of glory days again

It's been almost 20 years since Napoli, with Diego Maradona at the peak of his powers, won the second of their two Serie A titles.

Diego MaradonaBut now there is a feeling that the Southerners' regeneration, after years of decline and debt, is not just a fleeting moment.

Napoli beat Turin giants Juventus 2-1 at home on Saturday to briefly lead the table.

They have lost only once in seven matches this season and that was something of an anomaly in an otherwise impressive beginning, losing 3-2 to Genoa despite their opponents finishing the match with nine men.

Had they won that game they would have been top two weeks earlier. Coach Edy Reja is trying not to get carried away but he believes his team deserve to be where they are.

"Being top is a great feeling," he said. "For me it's the first time I've ever been top of a table. We showed we're maturing.

"We have to be happy because until now we've played great football, even in Genoa we deserved more.

"We're constantly evolving but we won't get big headed. In January we'll start counting, we'll see where we are then."

Even so, there is a feeling that Napoli's rebirth could lead to a return to the heady days of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Since those glory days, during Maradona's reign at the club, Napoli won the Serie A title in 1987 and 1990 but then went into gradual decline and eventually went out of Serie A.

After Maradona's carrer in Italy ended with a positive test for cocaine - and subsequent 15-month ban - Napoli then also lost the services of Brazilian forward Careca and Gianfranco Zola, now the West Ham United manager.

They were relegated in 1998 winning only two games all season but came back up two seasons later.

However, they were relegated straight away and worse was to follow as Napoli went bankrupt in 2004 with estimated debts of 70 million euros.

They were sent down to Serie C1 and stayed there two seasons having missed out on promotion at the first attempt in a play-off defeat to Avellino.

But two successive promotions followed bringing them back into Serie A last season for the first time since 2001 and they finished eighth, qualifying for the Intertoto Cup.

This season got off to a torrid start with fans rioting at an away trip to Roma, resulting in a season-long ban from travelling.

But on the pitch things went much better.

Napoli got a drawin the capital on that opening day of the season, despite being reduced to 10 men and the next week they beat another Champions League team in Fiorentina.

They earned a credible draw at high-flying Udinese, who briefly replaced Napoli at the top of the table on Sunday before Inter took over top spot, and then beat Juve.

Napoli's film producer President Aurelio De Laurentiis, who rescued the team during their darkest days, said he felt their early success this season, and that of other sides such as Catania and Udinese, was due in no small part to the Calciopoli scandal that came to a head in 2006 and saw Juve, AC Milan, Lazio, Fiorentina and Reggina all punished.

"Now there is space for everyone, nothing is predictable and the fans can really enjoy themselves with a title race that isn't over after seven matches," he said.

"I'm happy that after 17 years we can show Neapolitans that there's a serious project in front of them."

Source: AFP

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