Napoli back among the big boys

Napoli's forward Sebastiano Siviglia (C) celebrates with teammate midfielder Christian Maggio

SSC Napoli, or Societa Sportiva Calcio Napoli to give them their full name, are standard-bearers for football in the south of Italy, with thousands upon thousands of devoted followers flocking to the San Paolo stadium every other weekend to cheer on their heroes. And though the club from the Campania region have a relatively sparse honours list, they will be forever known for the Diego Maradona-inspired successes of the late 1980s.

Having endured a difficult time since El Pelusa's departure, with relegation to Serie C1 in 2004 a particular low, Napoli have battled back in recent years to become a force on the Italian football scene once more.

Birth of an institution
SSC Napoli can trace their roots all the way back to late 1904, when an Englishman by the name of William Poths, employed at the city's port by a commercial maritime company, helped found Naples Football Club.

The team's first match was against the English crew of the boat Arabik, a friendly game which Naples FC won 3-2 via goals from MacPherson, Scafoglio and Chaudoir. Indeed, this victory was considered quite an achievement for the fledgling institution, given that Arabik arrived fresh from a 3-0 win over Genoa, one of Italy's leading teams at the time.

Given the national championship was then only open to northern clubs, Naples FC were forced to make do with taking part in secondary competitions. In 1913 the club won their first Campania Tournament and began causing a stir further afield in the build-up to the First World War, notably through a 3-1 success in Rome in a high-profile friendly against Juventus.

In 1921, Naples FC merged with local rivals Internazionale to become Internaples, but the club's official founding under president Giorgio Ascarelli would not come until five years later on 1 August 1926. This landmark event brought yet another change of name, with the club now being known as Associazione Calcio Napoli.

For the next four decades, the fortunes of the Naples' outfit varied wildly between memorable results and periods of crisis as they fought an uneven battle against the financial might of northern giants such as AC Milan, Inter and Juventus.

Their current identity was adopted on 25 June 1964 with the establishment of SSC Napoli, two years after their first Italian Cup triumph (1961/62). Another cup success arrived in 1975/76, while the* Partenopei* also finished runners-up in the national league in 1967/68 and 1974/75. Yet having grown used to playing second fiddle, Maradona's arrival from FC Barcelona on 5 July 1984 would change the face of the city and the club forever.

Making of a legend
Rarely in football history has there been such perfect chemistry between a football player and an entire city. In a matter of months, El Diez had acquired near demi-God status, with the Argentinian genius going on to guide the team towards domestic and continental glory alongside fellow world-class stars such as Brazil's Alemao and home-grown defender Ciro Ferrara.

The first of these conquests was in the 1986/87 season, when Napoli won their first ever Serie A title as well as that season's Italian Cup. Brazilian striker Careca joined in the summer of 1987 to form the fearsome 'MA-GI-CA' attacking triumvirate with Maradona and Bruno Giordano. With El Diego pulling the strings, an outfit previously used to living in the shadows of the northern powerhouses claimed the UEFA Cup in 1988/89, won a second *Scudetto *in 1989/90, finished league runners-up on two occasions and took the Italian Super Cup for 1990/91.

Yet it would all end in tears in 1991, when Maradona tested positive for cocaine. With the Albiceleste magician gone, Napoli entered into a slow but seemingly irreversible downward spiral, hitting rock-bottom in September 2004 when financial ruin ended in enforced relegation to Serie C1.

The present
Even at their lowest ebb, Napoli were able to bounce back, thanks largely to the efforts of president Aurelio De Laurentiis, a successful film producer. Now 59, De Laurentiis opted for a policy of sustained growth rather than heavy spending, putting his faith in sporting director Pierpaolo Marino and former coach Edy Reja. Marino's eye for new talent has been key to Napoli's revival, as has the coaching skills of vastly experienced supremo Reja, who masterminded two successive promotion campaigns.

Despite guiding Napoli to a UEFA Intertoto Cup berth on their return to the top flight, and producing a team that Italy boss Marcello Lippi claims "play the most attractive and interesting football" in the division, a ten-game winless streak led to 63-year-old Reja being replaced in March 2009 by Roberto Donadoni.

The stadium
Napoli play at the San Paolo stadium in the Fuorigrotta quarter, which was officially unveiled prior to the club's 2-1 win over Juventus on 6 December 1959. Originally boasting a capacity of 85,012, it has since been reduced to 60,240.

The oval-shaped arena has undergone extensive renovation work on two occasions, firstly ahead of the 1980 UEFA European Championship and later in the build-up to the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™. At the latter event the San Paulo hosted five encounters, including the semi-final between Italy and Maradona's Argentina.

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02 Apr 2009