In the 1990s, Italy perfected the ‘curva’, a type of curved stadium seating that revolutionized how football fans watched their favorite team. However, the remnants of these stadiums no longer elevate the sport.
However, most Serie A clubs are in a precarious position. Not only does Italy have complex laws that protect older buildings (including major stadiums from the 90s), but the clubs don’t own their own arenas, to begin with. Most clubs, Napoli included, rent locations like the Stadio San Paolo.
For this reason, dreams of a new stadium are largely pipe dreams for most clubs. Not only do they struggle to raise the funds to invest in a new home base, but they face reams of red tape to get there—just take a look at the Stadio Della Roma project, underway now for over a decade.
However, back in 2018, it seemed that Napoli would succeed where other clubs had failed to revitalize their stadiums. Instead, all that came was another round of renovations in 2019. Going forward, president Aurelio de Laurentiis remains keen on building a new stadium – but is it possible?
The Drive to Regenerate
With last year’s Coppa Italia under their belt, the Azzurri earned a new stadium—but president De Laurentiis may not be capable of pushing the project through to completion given certain laws.
However, new stomping grounds for Napoli wouldn’t just support the team’s improvement on the pitch, but also work to draw in international football fans. Even as far as the US, where the domestic MLS league is slowly gaining steam, top pundits provide wagers on major leagues, including the Coppa Italia and Serie A.
As interest in Italian football increases beyond the EU, revamped stadiums are one way for the league to welcome new fans. For example, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium is one of the sport’s greatest homefields, but it doesn’t cater to VIP experiences.
Instead, Emirates Stadium is designed for the football superfan, with ample extras dotting the arena, from museums to retail shopping. They draw most of their income not from season ticket holders, but from the average diehard fan.
However, it isn’t up to the discretion solely of Napoli. Other clubs, like Palermo and Catania, have created successful bids to construct new stadiums—but delayed bureaucratic systems have slowed their progress exponentially.
In Honor of Maradona
Only days after legend Diego Maradona died in December 2020, Napoli rallied to rename their stadium in honor of the team’s most cherished player. Not only did Maradona lead Napoli to the only two Scudetti on record (1987 and 1990), but his record of 115 goals with the club helped propel the Azzurri to international fame.
However, now that local authorities, who own the stadium, have renamed it the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, they may be less likely to support demolition plans for the site. At the moment, tensions between Napoli and the Municipality of Naples continue in relation to the stadium.
In 2019, only one year after De Laurentiis pushed for new stadium plans, the club’s president signed a five-year rental extension for Stadio San Paolo. The agreement could even include an extra extension, which would see the Azzurri play at the same stadium until 2028.
To help address ongoing issues with the stadium, which range from its lack of Wi-Fi for press to degraded dressing rooms for the players to a lack of fan engagement, a museum and other renovations are on the docket.
And, in the end, the passing of Maradona may have touched on an emotional connection to the stadium where the legend played, along with others like Edinson Cavani, Marek Hamsik, and Dries Mertens. For fans and players alike, continuing the club’s legacy on the same stomping grounds where legends have played is one of the most exciting parts of the sport.
For the time being, it seems that further renovations, in honor of Maradona or to help placate concerns from Napoli, will help improve the playing conditions at the stadium. However, it seems major changes are still in the works for the club.