The only thing that might stop Napoli from winning the Serie A title might well be an excess of enthusiasm at the southern Italian side. Napoli have come a long way this season; Il Ciuccio (The Donkey) are competing for their first Scudetto since their last victorious campaign in the 1989/90 season, when the legendary Diego Maradona appeared in a sky blue shirt. Maradona helped Napoli to two Scudetti, in 1986/87 as well as that one at the turn of the 90s; a UEFA Cup was thrown in for good measure too (1988/89) in four superb seasons in Naples.

Last weekend, an impressive victory at the Stadio Olimpico against Roma (2-0 via two Edinson Cavani goals) handed Napoli their first victory against the Giallorossi in the capital since 1993. A thousand fans awaited the Azzurri’s bus in Naples when the side returned, ready to celebrate with the stars who had ensured they remained second in the league, just three points behind leaders AC Milan.

Napoli’s season has surprised all Italy. Il Ciuccio are playing some fine football under the management of Walter Mazzarri, aided by the never-ending support of the club’s president Aurelio De Laurentiis, one of Italy’s most respected film producers.


In Mazzarri’s set-up, a key role is handed to the forward trio of Marek Hamsik, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani. Hamsik, the clever Slovakian international who shone at last summer’s World Cup is a classical trequartista, playing just behind the Lavezzi-Cavani attacking force. The Slovak is skilful and adept at operating between the lines, combined with a good shot and a knack for scoring vital goals, he has been crucial to Napoli’s success.

Lavezzi, an Argentine, has had the honour of being one of Maradona’s favourite players, and commented that the legendary number 10 had even told him to take his former shirt at the San Paolo. The shirt is an icon in Naples, worn by Maradona himself when he was the unofficial king of the southern city. When Maradona decided to retire in the 1990s, Napoli’s board retired the number in his honour, meaning Lavezzi has had to content himself with number 22. It has been a blessing of sorts; Maradona’s old jersey would weigh heavily on any player.

The 25-year-old is popular with the Napoli faithful who see him as a "little genius". Despite the fact that his goal tally is modest, his movement is vital to opening holes in stubborn defences and the Argentine also boasts his fair share of assists. In Rome, Lavezzi was on top of his game, however his display was marred by an exchange of spit with Roma defender Aleandro Rosi, an incident which caused both to be handed a three-match ban.

But while Hamsik and Lavezzi have been expected to produce stellar performances, it is Edinson Cavani who has stepped up to surprise. The Uruguayan was expected to add real value to Napoli following his summer move from Palermo, however the level of his impact had not been foreseen. Coming off an excellent World Cup campaign with La Celeste, Cavani has notched 20 Serie A goals at the time of writing, making the difference time and time again.

De Laurentiis paid €18M for Cavani and has seen his purchase develop into a world-class performer over the past six months, with highlights being a hat-trick against Juventus and then that double away to Roma. The chatter around Naples is now of how Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho has his eyes on taking Cavani to Spain in the summer. But Cavani would not come cheap, with De Laurentiis stating that even €50M would not convince him to sell his Uruguayan star. The player himself is making the right noises too, keen to stay with Napoli to play in next season’s Champions League with the club.

Napoli are also Italy’s lone remaining representatives in this season’s Europa League, although a 0-0 first leg draw against Villarreal in the Round of 32 has left them up against it. The heavy European trophy is not foremost in Napoli’s mind though, as a dream Serie A win seems closer and closer to becoming a realistic reality. The road is though tough and the Azzurri face AC Milan on Monday (28th) in the San Siro.

For Il Ciuccio the Milan meeting is their game of the season and after it all Italy should know whether the Scudetto is the target for Mazzarri’s men, or if they should aim a little lower, and simply secure a Champions League berth. Whatever happens, Napoli have been one of the stories of 2010/11’s Serie A season, and look more likely to revisit the heady days of the Diego Maradona era than at any time in the past 20 years.


Photo Courtesy: Chievo