There is something very dangerous about SSC Napoli this season.
While all the talk swirls around the surprise league leaders Milan, the neighbours and challengers Inter, and struggling reigning champions Juventus, there is hardly any room for extra Serie A narrative.
What seems to have been passionately remembered and then quickly forgotten was the passing of the great Diego Maradona, a man who will forever be revered and an inspiration to the entire city of Naples.
His tragic death brought a stuttering Napoli side back to life, as they were all forced to face their own mortality, and remember exactly why they fell in love with the beautiful game in the first place.
No player will have felt the devastation of Maradona’s passing more than local boy and Napoli captain, Lorenzo Insigne. The 29-year-old has spent his entire career playing at Stadio San Paolo, and he has often delivered on the weighty expectations.
One thing that is lacking from his legacy is a well-stocked trophy cabinet. The winger has won two Coppa Italia titles, the most recent one coming at the end of last season. But the Partenopei supporters are all craving a Serie A title – something they haven’t tasted since Maradona last walked the pitch of the stadium that now bears his name.
The two scudetti they lifted with the great Argentine in their side remain the only successes of their kind in the club’s history, and no player can truly feel satisfied with his career in Naples until he finally ends their 30-year wait for another.
That knowledge appeared to weigh heavy on Insigne’s shoulders in the past, as he grew frustrated by comparisons made between his success and that of their former captain, Maradona. But this wake up call has slapped the winger across the face, and armed with a brand new tattoo to honour his predecessor, he’s champing at the bit to do his people proud.
He began his rampage with a brilliant free-kick against AS Roma in their first league game after Maradona’s death, and his form since that moment has been nothing short of exceptional. Insigne is playing some of the very best football of his career, now producing flashes of brilliance in every match, which previously shone through only once every few weeks.
The winger has scored seven goals and provided three assists since the end of November, and his latest outing against Fiorentina was the pick of the bunch. La Viola travelled to Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, having vastly improved under new management, including a famous 3-0 victory over rivals Juventus.
But Insigne made sure there was to be no such shock on the cards this time round, inspiring the hosts to a stunning 6-0 win, and lifting them back into the top three in the process. The captain kicked off the scoring after only five minutes, stroking home from close range following a nice team move.
He then produced a moment of pure genius to assist the third and put the game to bed, picking the ball up on the left flank and beginning a mazy dribble beyond three Fiorentina defenders, before cutting the backline apart with an inch-perfect through ball. Hirving Lozano was accredited with the goal, but it was all Insigne’s work.
The diminutive forward rounded off his statistical contributions by adding his second goal of the game, calmly rolling home a penalty to bring up Napoli’s fifth in a 6-0 hammering. Matteo Politano brought the curtain down on another sensational Partenopei display, as they recorded four or more goals in a match for the sixth time this season.
Those three points took Napoli to within six of Milan, and three of second-placed Inter, putting them well into the conversation for scudetto candidates – where they deserve to be.
While all the narratives surround Andrea Pirlo winning his first title as a coach, Antonio Conte ending Juve’s monopoly or Milan announcing their return as a European powerhouse, one narrative stands stronger and taller than the rest.
That is, the city of Naples welcoming another son into immortality, having guided his hometown club to only their third ever league title, all in the name of Diego Armando Maradona. Goosebumps.