By JOHNNY EDWARD.
The city of Naples came alive again after Napoli lifted their first top-flight title in 33 years on Thursday.
Napoli fans took to the streets to celebrate their team’s historic victory with songs, flares, fireworks, horns and firecrackers as it became a long street party in Naples last Thursday.
Reports say one fan died and fee others injured.
The jubilations were just unstoppable.
It’s the first time since the great Argentine Diego Maradona led the club to the Scudetto titles in 1987 and 1990, that the Partenopei secured another Serie A, their third overall.
It is also the first time a club south of Italy’s traditional football capitals of Milan and Turin has won the league since Roma claimed the title in 2001.
Napoli have been, without question, the best team in Italy this season, scoring more goals (69) and conceding fewer than any other side (23) in the division to date. They nevertheless required a point against Udinese last Thursday in order to realise their dreams of winning the title.
But they trailed after Sandi Lovric scored the opener for Udinese after 13 minutes. Lovric’s clinical finish from inside the penalty area rocked Luciano Spalletti’s side, who struggled to create chances at the other end, although Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen threatened with a couple of first-half headers.
But when he pounced 12 minutes after half-time, calmly side-footing in a rebound, it sparked rapturous celebrations among thousands of travelling Napoli supporters at the Dacia Arena.
The goal was Osimhen’s 22nd Serie A goal of the season — and while he leads the Italian topflight scorers chart by a mile, his latest goal helped Napoli clinch their third league title, earning his side the deserved point.
The strike was the most crucial for the Nigerian since he joined the club for an African record fee of €70m plus add-ons from French club Lille in 2020.
“I scored the Scudetto goal,” Osimhen said after his side’s draw at Udinese.
“It’s true, but anyone else could have scored it. I feel like a leader and I never give up.
“I’m thrilled with this. I’m happy for me, for the team and for the fans. I can’t wait to embrace our fans, even though I already felt the warmth of the people. I’m happy for all the Neapolitans.”
This season also saw Osimhen set new records on the way to claiming the coveted Scudetto.
Thursday’s strike against Udinese eaned him the distinction of the African with the most goals scored in a single Serie A season. Cameroon legend Samuel Eto’o had set the record for the most goals scored by an African while at Inter Milan during the 2010/11 season.
In February 2023, he scored his 19th league goal in a 2-0 win at Empoli, making him the second-youngest player (at 24 years, 58 days) to attain the feat after Cagliari’s Roberto Muzzi did (at 23 years, 165 days) to score in eight consecutive games.
He also scored his 100th career goal, reaching the landmark faster than either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
Before his arrival at the club in 2020, Napoli had come close to winning the Serie A title on several occasions with more established and experienced players in their ranks.
A year after the 1990 title success, Napoli’s performance dipped following the departure of key players. That era also saw the late Maradona fail a drug test and he left Italy in disgrace after being handed a 15-month ban.
They were relegated to Serie B in 1998 after claiming a miserly 14 points from 34 games. Despite a small respite back in the topflight in the 2000/01 season, Napoli failed to avoid relegation immediately after their first season back in Italy’s topflight division before they were declared bankrupt for the second year in a row – that saw the Partenopei drop to the third tier of Italian football.
But like a miracle, Napoli rose from the ashes as Italian film giant Aurelio De Laurentiis swooped in to buy the club when it was at its most vulnerable financial state.
De Laurentiis fulfilled his promise of bringing Napoli back into the Italian topflight in three years.
Since then, Napoli fans have seen some of Europe’s best players grace the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium pitch – from Edinson Cavani, Gonzalo Higuain, Lorenzo Insigne and Fabian Ruiz to Dries Mertens, Kalidou Koulibaly and Marek Hamsik and now Osimhen – as well as rotating cast of elite managers – Walter Mazzarri, Rafael Benítez, Maurizio Sarri and Carlo Ancelotti have all had stints in the Naples dugout.
However, after three years in Naples, Osimhen rewrote Napoli’s history from a team that could not reclaim the elusive Scudetto to a team of title contenders.
The 2022/23 season started with the exit of the quartet Koulibaly, Mertens, Insigne and Ruiz, who were regarded as the spine of the squad that had come close to winning the title for years.
The club, however, replaced them with talented players who were hungry for success.
In came the Georgian winger, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia — who has been one of the most impressive players in the topflight this season. Kvaratskhelia is currently the leading assist-provider in Serie A with 10 assists.
Defender Kim Min-jae and central midfielder Frank Anguissa also joined the club.
Osimhen has enjoyed a great campaign, scoring 27 times for Napoli and earning admiring glances from some of Europe’s biggest clubs, with reports suggesting some may be ready to pay a huge fee to lure him away from Serie A this summer.
That sounds like the Nigerian had the perfect season, but that is not actually the case. Disrupted by several injuries, he missed big games such as the Champions League quarter-final first leg against AC Milan which Napoli lost by a lone goal.
It is not the first time injury has affected him, something that put off potential suitors. Indeed, he still wears a protective facemask in every game, after breaking an eye socket in November 2021, an injury that saw him miss last year’s Africa Cup of Nations.
While undoubtedly, Maradona remains the king in Naples, following his heroics at the club, Osimhen has earned his place as well in the club’s folklore as the prince of Naples, after firing them to a third title with his goals.
The man with the mask has truly become Napoli’s real hero this season.