Napoli: Back where they belong

On the world footballing stage, few clubs can have as strong an attachment to their home town as Napoli. Like Juventus, they have supporters dotted all around the world, particularly in the Mediterranean countries, to which many Italians have emigrated.

Unfortunately, Napoli do not have a trophy cabinet to match the aspirations of their legions of fans. The Societa Sportiva Calcio Napoli has only ever won the Scudetto on two occasions, to go with their four runner-up spots and six third-placed finishes in 64 seasons in Serie A. Regardless, there are few Italian clubs who relish a visit to the club's Stadio San Paolo de Fuorigrotta, in the shadow of volcanic Mount Vesuvius.

SSC Napoli were officially founded on 1 August 1926, but for many years were unable to compete with the big clubs from the north of Italy due to a lack of finances. The club began to rise in the 1960s, when the likes of Omar Sivori, Jose Altafini and Dino Zoff took them as high as second in the league. Big money signings soon followed, with Angelo Sormani and Bologna centre-forward Beppe Savoldi joining the club.

Maradona - the one and only
The "miracle" which Neapolitans had been waiting for for so long finally happened on 5 July 1984, when a certain Argentinian by the name of Diego Armando Maradona signed for the club. The legendary No10 fell in love with the city, and the feeling was mutual. For the next few years, Napoli lived and breathed Maradona, who brought them their first, and to date only two league titles, a Coppa Italia and a UEFA cup triumph, all in seven seasons which have gone down in the annals of the club.

When Maradona left in 1991, the club went into a slow decline, despite having such stars as Gianfranco Zola, Ciro Ferrara, Fabio Cannavaro and Laurent Blanc on their books. 1998 was perhaps the club's nadir, when they went through four coaches and three directors of football in one season before being relegated to Serie B after 32 seasons in the top flight. The club was then declared bankrupt by the civil court in September 2004 and stripped of its name and trophy cabinet. Thereafter, Napoli were relegated to Serie C1 (the third division) before being bought for 33 million euros by film director Aurelio De Laurentiis.

The club took on a new name - Napoli Soccer - and won promotion to Serie B two seasons later. On 23 May 2006, De Laurentiis was finally able to buy back the trophies and titles and the club were allowed to re-assume the name of Societa Sportiva Calcio Napoli. Having taken care of the past, club officials then turned their attentions to the future. New players were signed with the aim of making it back to where they belonged - Serie A.

Start from scratch
Napoli decided to go for a balanced team rather than investing in star names. Players such as Paolo Cannavaro, younger brother of Fabio, experienced midfielder Samuele De La Bona and strikers Roberto De Zerbi and Christian Bucchi, who finished as Serie B top scorer, joined the club, who fought tooth and nail with Genoa and ended up second behind Juventus.

Edoardo "Edy" Reja, who had taken over the coaching reins in 2004, was the architect of this success. The 62-year-old is a former player who has gained considerable coaching experience over the years, though he has never coached one of the top clubs in Serie A. There are only six foreign players in the 25-strong Napoli squad, and many of those are not regular first-teamers, so Reja knows that he will have to strengthen the ranks considerably over the coming weeks if his club are to avoid returning to the second division.

But this is not the time for negative talk. Napoli are celebrating, with the whole town, like President De Laurentiis, breathing a huge sigh of relief after their goalless draw with Genoa confirmed their top flight berth for next season. "The dark days are over now. Getting a result like this isn't easy, especially for a new club. Don't forget that we had to start from scratch three years ago."

De Laurentiis intends to keep his feet on the ground, but that may be tricky in a town where everyone is talking about the football club - even Sophia Loren. The 72-year-old actress went public with her support for the team with a few matches remaining. "I hope that Napoli win their remaining games," she said, before promising: "If they go up, I'll do a strip-tease."