Kevin Pogorzelski Date: 30th October 2020 at 10:31am
Written by:

With Napoli challenging at the top of Serie A once more and the legendary Diego Maradona approaching his 60th birthday, it is easy to picture the diminutive genius inspiring the side during a trophy filled period for the club.

However, the recent resurgence of the Partenopei, obscures just how unusual it was that a club from arguably the poorest city on the peninsula, signed a player of such promise and status in 1984.

Yet to lift the World Cup for his country in 1986, the move is the equivalent of Neymar leaving Barcelona within two years after arriving from South America and joining, not Paris Saint-Germain, but a 2014/15 Atalanta who had just finished 17th.

Despite natural talent mere mortals can only dream of, a 23-year-old Maradona had had a disappointing tournament at Spain ’82 and so far won one Argentine league title and a Copa del Rey. Napoli themselves had finished one point from safety in Serie A.

There were two things going for the Partenopei, though, Serie A was becoming the biggest and toughest championship in the world, where stars wanted to test themselves, and Barcelona were desperate to sell someone who courted controversy at every turn.

In December 1982, just six months after signing, the South American was sidelined after contracting hepatitis and, during his layoff, fought constantly with president Josep Luis Nunez (whom Maradona referred to as ‘the imbecile’), over Maradona and his entourage partying wildly around Catalonia.

Just 10 months later, his ankle was broken after an horrific foul by Athletic Club defender Andoni Goikoetxea, but despite a near miraculous three month recovery, Maradona was labelled injury-prone. Although an eventual 38 goals in 58 games surely highlighted his value.

Whether the 1984 Copa del Rey final against Athletic Club was the final straw for Barcelona is open to debate, but events during an ill-tempered match feed an easy narrative.

The Argentine started a full scale brawl after headbutting Miguel Sola, elbowed another player in the face and knocked another out cold after delivering a painful blow to the head with a flying knee.

Italy was the obvious destination with Barcelona looking to recover their own world-record outlay, but a limit of foreign players, not finances, ruled out many of the country’s traditional powers.

Juventus already had Michel Plantini and Zbigniew Boniek, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was staring at Inter and Brazilian duo Socrates and Falcao with Fiorentina and Roma respectively, however, the truth is, no one wanted Maradona.

“I had no idea where I would go,” noted Maradona in El Diego and also to Napoli’s advantage, the attacker was also broke and “they were the only ones who made a [reasonable] offer.” Although a local politician had to secure a favourable loan for the deal to be completed.

A new world-record fee of €13.5m went to Barcelona, while Maradona was back to square one financially, using his 15 percent of the transfer and the sale of his Catalan home to clear his debts.

With the Spanish club winning La Liga the following season, the sale no doubt felt justified, but taking a struggling Napoli to two Scudetti, a Coppa Italia and a UEFA Cup, whilst also winning the 1986 World Cup, had created a legend forever remembered amongst the greatest footballers of all-time.