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Time to Live It Up for Napoli

Giving Up Was Never An Option 

Let me paint a small picture that Napoli fans will be able to remember for the rest of their lives. It was the 52nd minute of the Napoli vs. Udinese game at Stadio Friuli, home of the latter.

Nigerian striker and Napoli star Victor Osimhen finds a lingering rebound off a shot from Khvicha Kvaratskhelia. With a strike led by the force of a whole city, Osimhen drilled a shot by Udinese goalkeeper Marco Silvestre that ended a 33-year championship drought.

Time to Live It Up for Napoli
Napoli's Diego Maradona | AFP

The goal gave Napoli a 1-1 draw. More importantly, it meant the end of a long and grueling wait for NapoliMaradona’s team – and its fans to once again lay claim as champions of the Serie A tournament for the first time since 1989-90.

It was fitting that the goal was delivered by Osimhen, his 22nd, propelling him to continue his dominance at the top of the Serie A scoring list.

The night sky towering over the southern Italian city of Naples took on a plethora of colors, only overshadowed by the screams, chants, and overall happiness that all of its people let out once referee Rosario Abisso called the end of the game. The wait was finally over, and now, it was time to celebrate the magnificence of what had just occurred.

With yellow bibs that read “I will be with you, and you must never give up”, players, both starters and subs all took to the field at Stadio Friuli to finally rejoice alongside some of their faithful fans that took the trip to Udine.

Long gone were the doubts, criticism, and negativity. To hell with the non-believers and whoever didn’t want to jump into the fray. Napoli had just won the Serie A title, with a commanding 16-point lead over second-place Lazio, and there was nothing or nobody that could take that away.

Now, a day later, and while the city of Naples still recovers from what was probably one of the city’s best nights in a long, long time, let’s talk about what this third Serie A title means for the “Partenopei.”

While North Remembers, South Marches On

If you ask anybody, waiting on something to happen, whatever it may be, for thirty-three years could easily be constituted as no way to live. Imagine being part of a city, one of the most passionate when it comes to soccer fandom, like Napoli, and having to wait for 33 years to once again see your team win a league title.

Yes, I know there are other teams, in other sports, and other cities that have gone through worse. But when you live and breathe soccer in the style of Neapolitans, 33 years can feel like overlapping eternities. Since the 1989-90 season, when Maradona and company brought home the Serie A trophy, Napoli had been through literal heaven and hell.

From relegation struggles to bankruptcy, with Italian film mogul Aurelio De Laurentiis stepping up to become the team’s savior from oblivion, the time for Napoli to finally catch a break was long overdue.

After years of seeing the Serie A title bounce back and forth between AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, and AS Roma for the most part, Napoli never stopped fighting. They understood that at the end of the road, there was something bigger awaiting them, something more than just a season title and trophy: Redemption.

Always About the Fight, Grit, and Glory

Life in the south of Italy is not about the glitz and glamour that cities like Rome or Milan offer. While the North boasts cosmopolitan fashion, elegance, and pompousness, in the South, it’s all about that blue-collar grind.

Between the narrow streets, the famed pizza, clothes hanging from side to side in the streets, and shrines to Maradona that pop up here and there, Neapolitans live their life in the same way they love their soccer team: passionately, with undying faith and a hunger for always finding something better.

When the season first started, and after seeing the likes of historic players like Lorenzo Insigne, Kalidou Koulibaly, Fabián Ruiz, and Dries Mertens all leaving the squad, hope was nowhere to be found. But that didn’t stop coach Luciano Spalletti from taking on the challenge to make Napoli champions once again, and boy did it work out.

With players like Osimhen and Kvaratskhelia leading the way, this title was all about a team coming together, banding like brothers, and pushing through everything. Starting with Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s captaining skills, Stanislav Lobotka’s masterful midfield management, Piotr Zielinski’s eye for assisting, and André-Frank Zambo Anguissa’s two-step-ahead form against opponents, there was never a moment where giving up was an option.

For Spalletti, one of the best tactical minds that Italian soccer has seen in decades, the title also feels like a reward for his perseverance. When pushed to the edge of the helm, Spalletti knew that fighting back was the only way to go. For a coach that saw his only league title win coming in Russia back in 2010, becoming the architect of such a championship run makes everything that much better.

A Title for the City, the People, and … Diego

I was here in my office watching the end of the game and following the action unfolding on Twitter when the wait ended. While the city of Naples exploded, I celebrated as if it was my team winning because, at the end of the day, I’m a sucker for an underdog story, especially one that involves a team close to my heart like Napoli.

This was Diego’s team winning. This was Maradona’s squad finally bringing back the trophy that the Argentinian managed to win twice in his seven years playing for the club. For those of us who grew up watching Maradona transform soccer from a sport to a matter of eternal romance, yesterday felt right. I’m not a religious man, but I’m sure Maradona was looking down, listening to Opus’ “Live is Life” and enjoying every minute of it.

Napoli deserved that championship. Had it been sweeter if they won it at home before their game against Udinese? Sure, but life is all about waiting, and if there’s something that Napoli fans understand, it’s waiting.

Now, though, kick waiting to the curve, the wait is over, Napoli is finally Serie A champion!

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