A trip down Maradona's Naples

A trip down Maradona's Naples

Rick Olivares (Philstar.com) - November 26, 2020 - 1:59pm

MANILA, Philippines — “Signore, puo dirmi come arrivare al Santuario di Maradona?” 

I hoped my halting Italian — helped by a guide book — would get me to the Diego Maradona Shrine at the Piazzetta Nilo in Naples without me being sold as some slave to some Mafia group or what.

“Turista,” the balding and bespectacled man asked while looking up from his newspaper.

“Si,” I answered confidently.

“Sempre dritto,” he pointed to a gaggle of what were obviously tourists also wanting to visit the shrine to one of world football’s Holy Trinity (that includes Pele and Lionel Messi).

The shrine is one of many that besotted the southern city of Naples after Maradona led the city’s football team to its best-ever era where they came away with two Serie A championships, an Italian Super Coppa, a UEFA Cup, ad Supercoppa Italiana trophies in seven years.

The man is clearly deified in Naples.

In the pre-internet days of Manila, the only way to watch international football was during a World Cup year or through the magazines that you could buy at PDPI (the pre-Booksale version) or at the top most floor of National Bookstore’s Superbranch where you could buy a lot of football books and magazines.

I walked about 200 meters and arrived at Café Nilo at the Pio Monte della Misericordia where the shrine is located. Unfortunately, if you wanted to approach the shrine or take a picture (that used to be outside but since placed inside so those with DSLRs would be unable to take shots from distance), you had to buy a cup of coffee that cost five Euros.

I had already purchased a shirt and a Napoli scarf and already made my trip to the Stadio San Paolo where he played and that cost me almost 200 Euros. Talk about a costly pilgrimage. 

The shirt had Maradona’s likeness along with his fabled #10. On the shirt was a silkscreened message, “Chi ama non dimentica.” 

Near the shrine was a building with Diego’s likeness painted on the wall. 

I was told this was one of some several dozen as well. One of the elderly gentlemen nearby claims to have painted the mural. In a mix of English and Italian, he offered, “No matter what mistakes Diego made in life, lo amiamo.”

“We love him.”

From Napoli Centrale, it took roughly 25 minutes to get to Stadio San Paolo; home of Societa Sportiva Calcio Napoli or the Gli Azzurri as they are known. At this time that I went (June of 2015), their star was another Argentinean in Gonzalo Higuain. The other star was Slovakian national Marek Hamsik who has since gone on to break Maradona’s goal-scoring record for the club. Pepe Reina, who had left Bayern Munich to play in Italy was the side’s goalkeeper and that was special for me as followed Reina when he was with my favorite football team ever in Liverpool. 

“When Diego brought us to the top of the Serie A, we partied for a week,” shared my taxi driver named Brando. “Mio fratello minore is named after Diego Maradona — ‘DiMara.’”

It was said that after the Argentinean led Naples to the 1986-87 titles, hundreds of babies born that year were named “Diego.”

Naples won the Serie A by three points; ahead of erstwhile defending champions, Juventus. That was an Old Lady team that had Michel Platini, Michael Laudrup, and Massimo Briaschi. 

Maradona’s squad defeated Juve twice that season and that helped prove to be the difference. More so the second round 2-1 win at the Stadio San Paolo on the 29th of March 1987 that proved to be the difference as Naples struggled in their last three matches that were all draws. Juve never lost a match after that game in Naples. 

I sat enthralled listening to Brando while taking photos with the stadio in the background. 

“Back then, even with government corruption, the poverty, the bad economy, we were all right because we had Diego,” summed up Brando.

And this was 25 years after he last played in a Gli Azzurri shirt. 

I can only imagine what it is like now (outside his native Argentina) in Naples after Diego Maradona passed away in the evening of November 25 due to a heart attack.

As is was written on the shirt that I just purchased — “Chi ama non dimentica” — “Who loves does not forget.”

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