All hail Napoli's new immortals! Victor Osimhen, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia & Luciano Spalletti have made Diego Maradona proud with stunning Serie A title triumph

Napoli scudetto HIC 16:9
For the first time in 33 years, the Partenopei are champions of Italy - something nobody predicted last summer...

Ten minutes after full-time in Turin and Napoli striker Giacomo Raspadori was still shaking, the significance of his injury-time winner against Juventus almost too much to take. His well-taken volley hadn't just ended his painful six-month goal drought; it had effectively sealed the Serie A title. "It has been a difficult time for me with injuries," an emotional Raspadori explained on the evening of April 23, "but the staff helped me through it, and the squad and the fans always showed their love for me."

Meanwhile, his captain, Giovanni Di Lorenzo, was also struggling to get his head around such a surreal situation. Just six years ago, he had been playing in the third tier of Italian football. Now, he would become the first Napoli player since "the great (Diego) Maradona" to lift the Scudetto. "It does feel strange," the defender admitted to DAZN. "But we are all trying to savour every moment of a wonderful journey."

The players certainly enjoyed their flight back to Naples. They sang, they danced and then, in the early hours of Monday morning, they were joined at Capodichino airport by thousands of jubilant supporters, some of whom jumped on their vespas to follow the team bus all the way back to the club's headquarters.

Star striker Victor Osimhen kept saying the same thing over and over again: "It's crazy, man, it's crazy!" And it was - just pure, unadulterated insanity. But it was also wholly unsurprising.

Coach Luciano Spalletti kept trying to stress that there was still a little bit of work to do in terms of the title, but there was simply no tempering the almost palpable sense of anticipation surrounding the club's first Scudetto in 33 years.

The party had been long since prepared. Napoli's title rivals had already been 'buried'. The bakers' blue bread was even rolled out last week.

And then came the anti-climax, Napoli held at home by Salernitana last Sunday when a victory would have clinched the title in front of their own fans, and on a bank holiday weekend to boot.

Osimhen had written on Twitter after the Juve win, "Dear Neapolitans, you've waited long enough. Now, it's your turn..."

But then they were forced to wait and Serie A's capocannoniere felt personally responsible, having been nutmegged Boulaye Dia before the Salernitana forward had silenced the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

Osimhen was visibly distraught but the delay felt fitting, symbolic of a struggle: his, Spalletti's and Napoli's.

Besides, Sunday's disappointment only made Thursday's decisive strike at Udinese all the sweeter.

  1. 'You don't know what you've missed!'
    Udinese Calcio

    'You don't know what you've missed!'

    At precisely 22:37 on Thursday, May 4, the party officially began, after Osimhen had earned Napoli a 1-1 draw at a Dacia Arena unsurprisingly packed with Neapolitans, who let off blue smoke bombs when the Nigerian scored the goal that secured the Scudetto. Osimhen's mask was even broken during the ensuing madness.

    Down in Naples, meanwhile, the city which lies in the shadow of Vesuvius erupted in joy. The celebrations will be wild and could last for days, maybe even weeks. As Andrea Carnevale is well aware.

    "I know that the party will be something unbelievable because I experienced two of them myself," the former Napoli striker tells GOAL. "I have so many many incredible memories from both 1987 and 1990, but I have to say, the first Scudetto was something truly beautiful."

    Indeed, it sparked chaotic scenes in Naples. The streets were filled with people sporting Maradona wigs. Traffic came to a standstill. People danced with joy on roofs of blocked buses, while fake funerals were held for hated rivals Juventus.

    The festivities lasted so long that VHS recordings of the party were being distributed among the revellers before it had even come to a conclusion.

    When it was finally all over, someone wrote on the wall of the Poggioreale cemetery, "You don't know what you've missed!" A reply arrived the following morning, "Who told you that we [missed] it?!"

    Carnevale's eyes light up as he thinks back on those two titles. "I feel like I'm a little part of the history of Napoli," Udinese's current head of scouting says, and he's not wrong. Carnevale was crucial to Napoli's historic triumph in 1986-87, scoring in each of their final eight games.

    "Even now, after more than 30 years, when I go down to Napoli to do interviews and other things, I'm always honoured," he reveals. "For them, I'm still one of the heroes of Napoli's first Scudetto.

    "And I'm still in love with Napoli, too. I obviously admire the club a lot but also the people of Naples. They deserve this Scudetto as much as Spalletti as his team.

    "And I'll tell you one thing, in my role as a scout these days, if I can advise my players to pick one team after Udinese, I always say Napoli, because the Neapolitan people are grateful and generous. They do everything for you. I've never bought anything there, not even a coffee! I received so much from Naples and its people.

    "If you win with Napoli, you remain in the hearts of Neapolitans forever."

  2. 'Maradona was the God of football'
    Getty Images

    'Maradona was the God of football'

    Obviously, the title triumph of '87 will always retain a unique, almost mythical status, not least because it was Napoli's first. But mainly because of one man: Maradona.

    "He's the god of football," Carnevale says, still seemingly awestruck by his former team-mate's genius. "He was unique. He'll forever be the greatest player in history. There's nobody like him.

    "I saw Pele, [Johan] Cruyff, [Michel] Platini and now [Lionel] Messi - all extraordinary players - but Maradona was on another level, I swear to you.

    "He was also a wonderful human being. With him, I had a privileged relationship. We were room-mates, we went out together with our wives, also to discos together!

    "He was such a great kid, and generous too. He gave you everything. When it came to taking care of his friends, Maradona was like nobody else. Everybody loved him."

    It would certainly be difficult to overstate Maradona's popularity in Naples. We're talking about a true icon. In a deeply religious city, a tourist is as likely to come across an image of Maradona as the Madonna. San Diego is treated with the same reverence as San Gennaro.

    Hundreds of pilgrims flock to Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta every day to bear witness to an ampoule containing what is allegedly the blood of Naples' patron saint. However, the staff at the nearby Bar Nilo claim that just as many tourists come to see their shrine to Maradona.

    So many, at one point, that it actually became difficult for patrons to reach the counter because of all of the tourists taking photographs. So, nowadays, those that visit have to at least buy a coffee before they take out their cameras. It's worth the euro, though. Not only is the coffee excellent (it is Napoli, after all); the shrine is something to behold.

    At the top of the altar, there is a spinning tear which represents all of the tears that have been shed by Neapolitans since Maradona left in 1991. A picture of 'Santo Diego' can be found below and is, tellingly, positioned just above a figurine of the Pope. A picture of Maradona in his Napoli shirt takes pride of place in the middle of the shrine but the piece de resistance lies beneath.

    'The miraculous hair of Diego Armando Maradona' is enclosed in a small glass case at the base of this miniature temple. Cafe Nilo owner Bruno Alcidi claims to have collected the sample after finding himself on the same flight as the Napoli team after a game in Milan on February 11, 1990.

    He says he spotted the stray hair on Maradona's vacated seat as he passed to disembark and, in a moment of inspiration and improvisation, popped it into his empty box of Marlboro cigarettes for safe-keeping until he could find a more fitting home for such a precious trophy.

    Is the hair now on display in Cafe Nilo authentic? According to one member of staff who wants to remain anonymous, it's merely a replica - the 'real' hair is apparently in Alcidi's family home - but, in truth, it doesn't really matter. What matters is what it represents; what Maradona represents, both from a sporting and cultural perspective.

  3. 'I've not travelled around in first class'
    Getty Images

    'I've not travelled around in first class'

    In that sense, Fabio Cannavaro is right when he says that Napoli's third title triumph is very different to the previous two.

    The sides that conquered Italy in 1987 and 1990 boasted many fine players, Carnevale among them, but Maradona was the undisputed symbol of the side.

    "On the other hand, this Scudetto has many faces," Cannavaro told the Gazzetta dello Sport earlier this week, "and the credit this time is mainly due to the coach."

    Spalletti's path to Scudetto success has been anything but straightforward. He took Empoli from Serie C to Serie A, carried Udinese into the Champions League and even inspired Sir Alex Ferguson with his striker-less system at Roma.

    However, he was unable to win the league during two spells at Stadio Olimpico, while his stint at Inter between 2017 and 2019 ended trophy-less.

    In total, it's taken him 553 games to reach the summit of Serie A - no title-winning coach has ever had to wait so long for their first Scudetto and, at 64, he's the oldest to ever do it.

    "I have not travelled around in first class looking out of the window," he said of his coaching career, "it was by hitch-hiking! "So, this Scudetto... repays you for all the sacrifices that you made over the years.

    "Naturally, it is satisfying to be here. I have often been mocked for wearing football boots on the touchline, but I remember when I desperately wanted those boots and could not afford to get them. I remember that well."

    In a way, then, Spalletti, despite hailing from Tuscany, was the perfect coach for Napoli, a club that has suffered from a variety of financial problems over the years, even going bankrupt in 2004 being refounded - and revived - by Aurelio De Laurentiis. They too have taken the long road to salvation.

    But their bond goes beyond some sort of shared sense of struggle; there's also Spalletti's footballing philosophy.

    De Laurentiis had actually first approached Massimiliano Allegri about taking over in 2021 and one could kind of understand why: Allegri is a serial winner. Stylistically, though, he would have been a disaster for Napoli. As Spalletti has stated time and time again, he has long embraced an offensive style of play anyway, but he has felt a deep-rooted obligation to entertain at the spiritual home of Maradona.

    He has also acknowledged that Napoli fans grew accustomed to watching good football during Maurizio Sarri's time in charge, between 2015 and 2018.

    "Whenever I had the chance, I would always choose to watch Sarri's Napoli - and enjoy the beauty of that team," Spalletti admitted. "This current Napoli side sought its own identity and beauty."

    It found both. Even more importantly, though, it also discovered a winning formula, and against all the odds.

  4. 'A new Napoli is being born'

    'A new Napoli is being born'

    Raspadori's injury-time winner against Juventus felt a little like history repeating itself. Five years previously, Napoli had also struck late in Turin to draw to within a point of the then-league leaders with four rounds remaining.

    Napoli fans couldn't contain themselves. In scenes eerily similar to what unfolded after last weekend's win at the same venue, 10,000 supporters turned out at the airport to welcome Sarri's squad home. They would end up being mercilessly mocked for their unbridled show of excitement, though, as Napoli promptly capitulated, losing 3-0 in their very next game at Fiorentina, before then being held to a 2-2 at home to Torino to effectively gift the title to Juve.

    Naples and its infamously superstitious people felt cursed. Indeed, for a long time during this most dominant of Serie A seasons - no team has ever won the title with more than five games to spare - Napoli fans refused to even mention the word Scudetto, for fear of jinxing the whole thing.

    However, as one rival after another fell away, it was clear by February that there was no catching Spalletti's side - which was just the most staggering turn of events, given Napoli's season had begun in acrimony, with fans furious over the departure of so many pivotal players.

    Former captain Lorenzo Insigne, all-time leading goalscorer Dries Mertens, striker Arkadiusz Milik, goalkeeper David Ospina and defender Faouzi Ghoulam had all left on free transfers; Fabian Ruiz had been snapped up by Paris Saint-Germain; and, most depressingly of all, club captain Kalidou Koulibaly had been sold to Chelsea.

    Spalletti was hardly to blame. He openly admitted that he was concerned by the loss of so many leaders, and Koulibaly's exit hit him particularly hard. He adored the Senegal centre-half not only as a player, but a man, and had even threatened to chain himself to the gates of the Maradona to prevent Koulibaly from leaving.

    And yet when Spalletti took to the stage at a public event during Napoli's pre-season training camp in Dimaro, he was heckled by some members of the crowd and visibly annoyed by one particularly irate supporter.

    "Some players have left and they take things with them, players like Ospina, Ghoulam, Koulibaly, Mertens, Insigne, so they take with them many things," Spalletti began.

    "Others... shut up! Others have arrived and bring with them new enthusiasm, more will come and bring with them more enthusiasm. Can someone shut that guy up, please?!

    "This is football. This is football, but what we cannot lose is your support and enthusiasm, because that is irreplaceable and cannot be bought. So, let's stay united and Forza Napoli!"

    However, many frustrated fans feared a top-four finish might be beyond them. A season of transition was anticipated. However, new captain Di Lorenzo was adamant that he and his team-mates could prove the doubters wrong.

    "A new Napoli is being born," he declared in an interview with Il Roma. "It's true that we have lost some strong players, but just as many good ones have arrived."

    Incredibly, that now looks like an understatement.

  5. From strangers to superstars
    Getty Images

    From strangers to superstars

    Famous faces were replaced by unknown names last summer, and yet instead of being weakened by the loss of at least three legitimate club legends, Napoli have been strengthened by the addition of several ridiculously shrewd signings.

    Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, a €15 million (£13m/$17m) signing from Fulham, has proven himself a pressing machine, while nobody who has played at least 500 minutes in Serie A this season has a better strike rate than Giovanni Simeone, even though the Atletico Madrid manager's son has been hindered by injury.

    Meanwhile, former Fenerbahce centre-back Kim Min-jae is now being linked with both Manchester United and Manchester City after doing something that would have been unthinkable last summer: successfully replacing Koulibaly.

    However, Napoli sporting director Cristiano Giuntoli made one even more masterful move by picking up Khvicha Kvaratskhelia from Dinamo Batumi for just €10m (£9m/$11m).

    Nobody in Naples knew he was; let alone how to pronounce his name. These days, though, he is just known as 'Kvaradona'.

    The comparison is a little tongue-in-cheek, a convenient play on words. As Cannavaro said, seriously comparing anyone to Maradona is "blasphemous" in Naples, but the Georgian winger's impact has been undeniably immense, having racked up 12 goals and 10 assists in Serie A.

    Earlier this month, nearly four decades after children all across Naples were christened 'Diego', a local couple named their child Daniele Khvicha by way of tribute to the city's new king of the dribble.

    Kvaratskhelia's face has also popped up on a number of new murals, usually alongside the other bona fide star of Spalletti's side: Osimhen.

    It is the Nigerian who arguably best personifies the talent and tenacity of this new Napoli. He arrived from Lille three years ago, but like so many of those around him - Mario Rui, Amir Rrahmani and Stanislav Lobotka to name but three - has elevated his game to a whole other level this season.

    Again, though, the bond that Osimhen has formed with the fans is about more than football. They stuck by their record signing during a trying start to his Serie A career because they see him as one of their own.

    Osimhen once stated, "Part of my life has been a struggle to survive", so a city that has long been blighted by socio-economic inequality was always going to embrace a kid following a dream that had "started in the slums" - just as it had done with Maradona 39 years ago.

  6. 'Diego would have loved this Napoli'
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    'Diego would have loved this Napoli'

    Earlier this season, when Napoli went to Amsterdam, the home of 'Total Football', and routed Ajax 6-1, Spalletti said "even Maradona would have been proud of us tonight". And Carnevale concurs wholeheartedly.

    "Even now, two years on, I still can't believe what happened..." the ex-Italy international says, exhaling slowly. "But I do know that Diego would have loved this Napoli."

    He'd also have enjoyed the Scudetto celebrations; it's a shame he's missing out. "But who told you that he is?!" Carnevale quips, breaking into a big smile. And he has a point.

    Now, more than ever before, Maradona's image is everywhere, his presence felt by every single Neapolitan, and one of the many parties now taking place all over the city is at a stadium that bears his name. "I already told you," Carnevale says, "if you win in Naples, you live on in the hearts of the Neapolitan people forever."

    In that sense, Osimhen, Kvaratskhelia and every other member of Spalletti's squad have just achieved immortality.