Maradona - The Scudetto's, the Cocaine and The Camorra Part One of Two

Written by Johnny Proctor
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Maradona Napoli 1

When Diego Armando Maradona joined Barcelona following the 1982 World Cup for a then world record transfer fee of £5m it was for most, a logical and evolutionary move for a player already deemed one of the best players in the world and one who's star was most definitely on the rise. Leaving his native Argentina and his boyhood heroes Boca Juniors for Catalunya this, as the world’s football media speculated, would prove to be the move that would elevate him to the very top of football’s table of the elite.


Maradona Barcelona 1Things never quite worked out as planned for him and little more than two years after a torrid tenure that included contracting hepatitis, trying cocaine for the first time and the defining moment in what spawned into a long term addiction with the drug, a career threatening broken ankle from "The Butcher of Bilbao" Andoni Goikoetxea and bitter in fighting with Barcelona President Josep Luiz Nunez, Diego was soon on his way out of the Camp Nou again. The destination was one that stunned the footballing world however as, rather than joining up with one of the biggest guns in European football and a team that would befit the elect world’s best player, instead Maradona opted for not so much a second rate club but arguably a third rate club side in Napoli from Italy’s south. A Serie A side not so much as sitting in the shade of the more decorated clubs in Italy in the north of the country and more akin to being in Iceland during dark season with no lightbulbs.

Napoli, the black sheep club of Italy’s top flight and a team with not one single Scudetto to their name and often ridiculed by the rest of the country’s calcio fans. Italy, at this time was as broken as it was fragmented with an unhealthy division between the north and the south. As is always the case, football can become a big part of a divide that has already been formed. The north, the industrial sector of the country had become affluent while the south of the country had maintained its traditions. Cultural stereotypes were born as a result. Northerners saw the south as a law unto itself, backwards and behind the times while the South viewed the north as greedy and only interested in themselves rather than the wellbeing of the whole country. To sum up how Neapolitans were looked upon, Napoli fans at the San Paolo were regularly greeted by chants of “Wash yourself “ by the visiting fans of Milan, Inter, Juve & Torino.

On the football field, there wasn’t much in the way of sporting competition between the north and south. For decades the monopoly for Serie A titles rested with the northern sides from Turin and Milan while Napoli were a club that perennially lurched from disaster to disappointment. With only 2 Coppa Italia wins to boast of in their history as far as top level domestic trophies could be concerned.

Napoli San Paolo Naples.

So why did one of the best players in the world, someone who was one year away from creating history, often at times single handed, by leading Argentina to a World Cup win in Mexico, elect to join such a small unfashionable football club? Well, money, mostly. In Maradona’s 2 years at Barcelona he had developed financial problems at an alarming rate. The combination of failed business ventures under the guidance of his personal manager Jorge Cyterszpiler and an outrageously large entourage that followed him around during his time in Catalunya had virtually bled him dry. His financial problems forcing his need to secure another payday and as soon as possible, this was achieved in a measured and machiavellian way with a scheme cooked up between him and Cyterszpiler that would secure him a transfer. For the most part, Maradona’s financial problems were kept hidden from the Barcelona board. His new coach, Terry Venables, who had recently taken over from Maradona’s fellow countryman, the chain smoking World Cup winning Cesar Luis Menotti, identified his new player’s problem within a week of taking over as coach. Venables, years later, was quoted as saying that the moment he discovered how much of situation Maradona was in he accepted that he wasn’t going to have this player around for long. Of course though, Maradona would need the blessing of the Barcelona board for any transfer to take place. This wasn’t forthcoming, President Nunez, viewing that by selling Maradona halfway through a contract it would give his critics in the Madrid press mileage in their prophesies when warning that by signing Maradona he would be asking for trouble, but signed him anyway. And with that, Maradona and his manager went to work.

Maradona CyterszpilerCytrszpiler, a master at manipulation with the press, came up with a strategy that would cause a split in the Barca board and one that was as genius as it was simple. ‘ Get Nunez really pissed off so that it would eventually become impossible for him not to sell Maradona’, Cyterszpiler admitted years later. Step one in this process was the opening gambit of engineering for Maradona to call all Catalans sons of bitches in an arranged interview with a “ friendly journalist.“ Maradona, performed the deed in an interview whilst in America and then upon his arrival promptly denied that he’d said such a thing, but the wheels were already in motion by then. Next came the leaked transfer negotiations between Cyterszpiler and both Juventus and Napoli which eventually wedged a split right down the middle of the Nou Camp boardroom with half wanting to sell Maradona and the other half maintaining that he should stay and see out his contract, reasoning that for a player with his talents the club had only picked up a Copa Del Rey. Despite the torrid time that Maradona had in Spain it has to be noted that whilst trophies may not have been something the club picked up regularly in his time there he did post a decent return of 38 goals in 58 matches over a period which also included the horror injury that almost finished his career and the start of his coke addiction.

Things came to a head and the Barca board had the decision to sell Maradona taken away from them during a brutal night in Madrid at the Bernabeu in the Copa Del Rey final when Bilbao and Barca squared up against each other, literally. Through the broken ankle dished out to Maradona by Bilbao defender Andoni Goikoetxea, a nasty bitter rivalry had been brewing between Javier Clemente’s infamous “ Wouldn’t want to meet down a dark alley “ Atletico Bilbao and Menotti’s Barca. In the build up to the match, the war of words escalated as kick off got closer. Maradona reacting to comments coming from the Bilbao camp and never one to avoid controversy, told the press ‘Clemente hasn’t got the balls to look me in the eye and call me stupid.’ The eternally belligerent Clemente fired back with ‘Maradona is both stupid and castrated. It’s a shame that a player like him who earns so much money, has no human qualities whatsoever’

This lit the blue touch paper for a powder keg tie that saw a mini riot between the sides at the end of the match. With Bilbao winning by a goal to nil and therefore completing the domestic double, they were celebrating on the pitch while the dejected Barca players trooped off the pitch back to the dressing room. As Maradona walked off and passed some of the jubilant Bilbao players he was subjected to taunts from Atletico player Sola who had decided to wave Maradona goodbye with the Spanish equivalent of the sign for ‘Fuck off.’ Sola finding himself promptly flat on his back after being decked by Maradona who was then set upon by a group of Atletico players, his old foe Goikoetxea included. This sparking a full scale brawl between both squads leaving King Juan Carlos and millions of Spaniards across the country looking on in horror at the scenes that was souring the end of season showcase Cup Final.

Maradona Barcelona Bilbao Riot.

From this moment his days were numbered. The FC Barcelona of this period were the ones that valued their reputation, their proud name more important than anything and certainly not one player. For his part in shaming the club at the end of the King’s Cup the board took the decision to let him go. There was one last piece of brinksmanship from Nunez who tried to hold out as long as possible to secure the highest fee but in reality Maradona was heading out of the Nou Camp the moment that he and Cyterszpiler decided they wanted out. As had already been engineered by his manager, the knowledge that both Juventus and Napoli were fighting for Maradona’s signature was already in the public domain. It was now only a matter of which team he would opt for. Well that would be simple though wouldn’t it? He would obviously sign for Juventus, not just the biggest club in Italy but one of the biggest clubs in the world and one who were undoubtedly of the same stature and calibre as the club he was already at. It seemed almost laughable that Napoli were even fighting to bring him to Naples.

Maradona though had other thoughts about it. Scarred by what was his first taste of the inner workings of how a top level European club operates, and the whole political intricacies that are woven into the fabric, he looked upon a move to Napoli as one that would bring him more of a professional challenge rather than sign for Juve who were at the top of Italian football and one that was littered with superstars from back to front. He felt that it would be Barcelona all over again with stars as teammates who were more interested in competing with their team mates. Napoli, on the other hand, was a team mediocre at best with no superstars to compete with each other. They were about to embark on a 3 year project that would see them completely revamp their squad. Some of the players were to be sold purely to ensure that the funds were in place if Maradona decided to ply his trade in the south of Italy. The three year plan, a preposterous one that in year one would see them avoid relegation and by year three Serie A champions. They only needed two.

Maradona made the Neapolitans dreams come true by snubbing Juve and agreeing to come to the San Paolo. The south was about to make history.

Unveiled at the San Paolo on 5th July 1984 to a hysterically rabid support of 70,000 supporters who had worked themselves into a frenzy for hours inside the stadium at the prospect of setting eyes on their new signing. In true superstar style, his method of arrival on that day was helicopter, landing him on the pitch as the Napoli tifosi, one of Italy’s most noisy of fans, went wild with fireworks and streamers filling the stadium. Maradona going through your archetypal by the numbers superstar player unveiling. Lap of honour waving to fans, the obligatory keepy uppy and tricks display then on to the press conference. It was during this that an almost grim prediction of sorts was put to Maradona by French journalist Alain Chaillou who, contrary to the elated mood amongst the Italian journalists, asked Maradona whether he was aware that the money which had been used for his transfer from Barca had been resourced by the local mafia. This saw Chaillou thrown out of the press conference with Maradona either not understanding the question or choosing not to answer it.

Maradona Napoli 2Maradona chose to do his talking on the pitch and along with a rebuilt squad including Brazilian Careca and Italians Ciro Ferrara, Fernando De Napoli and a young Gianfranco Zola went about restoring pride to the football mad Neapolitans. The rise of SS Napoli in the first few years of Maradona’s reign was of Hollywood film script proportions. Having escaped relegation the season before, Maradona’s first season brought a very respectable 3rd place finish in Europe’s toughest and most harshest of soccer environments. Napoli coming 2 points behind Roma and 6 behind the all conquering Michel Platini inspired Juventus. This was all merely a precursor for the mother of all parties in the south of the country 1 year later when Maradona, now a world champion and the undoubted best player on the planet and his team mates secured Napoli’s first ever Scudetto title, triggering the kind of celebrations never seen before in Italy, never mind the Southern part of the country. Naples had a full week of partying, mock funerals for the Milan clubs and Juve were staged with coffins in the teams colours. The city’s main square housed party after party day after day. The title arriving in the penultimate match of the season in a 1-1 draw with Fiorentina. Back in the dressing room the Napoli players were to a man serenading Maradona with the Napoli tifosi’s chant of ‘Oh mother do you know why my heart beats so? I have seen Maradona and I’m in love’ while out on the terracing and across the whole city, the celebrations were only just beginning. ‘ I consider myself a son of Naples,’ Diego announced shortly after the final whistle, that he most certainly was.

Part Two Here

Read 14222 times Last modified on Thursday, 07 May 2015 19:55
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Johnny Proctor

Johnny Proctor

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