Napoli - The Dark Horses in the race for the Scudetto?
The Late 80s and Early 90s was a glorious time in the history of this Southern Italy club. The Argentinian God, Diego Maradona-led Napoli side dominated Italian Football between 1986-1990, winning the Serie A in 1986-87 and 1989-90, the Coppa Italia in 1986-87, the Super Coppa Italiana in 1990 and the UEFA Cup in 1988-89. The glory and the silverware would then not return to the San Paolo for another two decades, as Napoli gradually found themselves in the midst of relegation and financial problems. By the end of the 1996-97 campaign, Napoli had been relegated to the Serie B and by 2004, the financial problems had compounded so much that the club was declared bankrupt. The club had to be re-founded and had to begin its return journey into Italian football from the lowest rungs of the Serie C1. But, a resilient squad along with the undying support of the fans even in the days of Serie C football, ensured that Napoli was back in Serie A for the 2007/08 season. They earned promotion that year along with Juventus and unlike Juve, who have had a very start-stop return to top flight of Italian football, Napoli have been very consistent in their progress and have steadily been on their way back to the Glory days of the Late 80s.
After finishing 6th, 3rd and 5th respectively in the last 3 Serie A campaigns and being the only team to have beaten Juventus last season, enroute the Coppa Italia win, the comeback to Serie A and their former glory is now almost complete. A 3rd Scudetto now seems only a few steps away, as Napoli have gotten off to a fantastic start in the league. After the first 7 matches, Napoli had won 6 and drawn 1, thereby ensuring that their start to this season was better than that during their Diego Maradona-inspired Scudetto winning campaigns of 1986-87 season, where Napoli won four of their first seven games and drew the other three while they triumphed in five over the same period of matches during the 1989-90 glory days, drawing the remaining two. After yesterday night’s draw against AC Milan in Round 13 of the 2012-13 Serie A, Napoli find themselves in 3rd place in the league table, equal on points with 2nd placed Inter and 5 behind leaders Juventus. A solid home form is essential in ensuring a successful campaign with trophies. Napoli are definitely making sure that they make San Paolo a fortress, and have the best home record so far this season. In 7 home matches, they have picked up maximum points in 6 and drawn just 1.
The main reason for their success in the past few seasons had been the outstanding performance of their ‘Three Tenors’ – Edinson Cavani, Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi. Lavezzi’s contributions didn’t go unnoticed as he was swooped up by big spenders PSG in the summer for a fee of around €30 million. With him and Walter Gargano having gone, many felt that the Napoli setup would be unsettled and the attacking potency will suffer this season. But 8 goals from Cavani and 5 goals with 5 assists from Hamsik, along with injection of new signings like Valon Behrami (Central-midfielder from Fiorentina) into the squad, has ensured that Walter Mazzarri’s team has had its best ever start to a Serie A campaign. Another huge positive for the club has been the performance of 21-year-old Lorenzo Insigne, who has returned to the club this season after loan spells. And with Pandev injured, Insigne has taken full use of that opportunity and has impressed everyone so much that many Serie A experts and diehard supporters, fellow Italian players, and Napoli supporters, believe that Lorenzo Insigne is not only the man to fill in for Lavezzi and be a better player than his predecessor, but also one of the biggest talents for the future of Italian football, with him being already compared to Messi.
The only downside to all things positive at this club are the unclear fates of Cavani and boss Mazzarri. Mazzarri had almost quit the job following the 4-2 defeat to Juventus in the Super Coppa Italiano at the start of the season, and has since been heard talking multiple times about leaving at the end of the season. Cavani, on the other hand, like Lavezzi was a transfer target for a lot of top European clubs over the summer. Since then there has been a lot of talks about his future and how the right price could see him leaving the club in the January transfer window. So, this lack of clarity over the future of the club’s biggest player and its manager cannot be a very good thing in their progress and quest for silverware this season.
Withstanding all this, if Napoli can sustain the kind of consistency they have shown so far till January and still be in touching distance of Juventus, then they would be giving themselves a very realistic chance of going for their 3rd Scudetto.