Barcelona and Napoli became inextricably linked in the summer of 1984.
The Serie A strugglers, who had avoided relegation by one point in the recently concluded campaign, were based in Italy’s poorest city at the time yet broke the world transfer record to sign Diego Maradona. The figure that Napoli surpassed had been set by Maradona’s move to Barcelona just two years earlier.
While Maradona pushed for the move away from Spain, the Argentine believed that Barcelona were only willing to lose a player with his indisputable talent to a team of Napoli’s limited stature.
“It’s not easy to pull one over the Catalans,” Maradona wrote in his autobiography. “They didn’t imagine the Italians would be great rivals in Europe.”
Despite Maradona’s domestic success in Naples, Barcelona’s hunch proved to be correct. The Spanish giants only faced Napoli in a competitive setting for the first time in 2020, more than two decades after Maradona had retired and the same year that he passed away.
Here’s a look at how Maradona’s former employers have fared in his absence.
“They didn’t hurt us,” Napoli boss Gennaro Gattuso insisted. “They tickled us.”
No one in Naples was laughing when Antoine Griezmann equalised for Barcelona in the second half of their Champions League round of 16 first leg. Dries Mertens had put the hosts ahead before the break, becoming Napoli’s joint-leading scorer of all time alongside Marek Hamsik (with Maradona back in third).
Bizarrely, both Gattuso and Barcelona boss Quique Setien were managing the first Champions League games of their respective careers in this lofty knockout fixture.
After the first leg, Napoli skipper Lorenzo Insigne had admitted it was “emotional” to line up against players of Lionel Messi‘s calibre. Following a subdued display in Naples, Messi lit up the decisive second leg held behind closed doors in Catalonia.
COVID-19 restrictions ensured that no fans were inside Camp Nou to watch Messi weave between a pack of white shirts. Insigne was part of the cabal rendered incompetent but Messi’s typical majesty, serving as one of four players that tried and failed to tear the ball off his shoelaces.
Messi was on the ground by the time he took aim, picking out the bottom corner while reclining on the grass.
“It annoys me to hear the Champions League anthem and not be part of it,” Xavi moaned ahead of Barcelona’s first game in Europe’s secondary cup competition in 18 years.
However, visitors in the form of Luciano Spalletti’s Napoli – who would…