Diego Amando Maradona was undoubtedly the most revered figure in the history of Napoli but Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen can secure a seat next to the late football legend in the annals of the Naples-based club if they secure their first Serie A title in 33 years which could come on Sunday (tomorrow) when they host Salernitana. Italian tattoo artist, Alberto Marzari, drew Maradona gifting the Su- Osimhem primed for deification as Napoli set to claim first Serie A title Sunday per Eagles red-hot striker the Serie A title win with a divine touch and that distinguished work of art succinctly captured the scenario that has played out since the start of this campaign. Osimhen has been a phenomenon that is fast assuming a deity status among the fans.
Big-name strikers have worn the skyblue jersey of the club since Maradona left in the early 90s including Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne, and Gonzalo Higuain but in signs and statistics, none of them has moved as close to Maradona as Osimhen has been in the past two seasons in the estimation of many Naepolitans. His tally of 21 goals in Italy’s Serie A has made him the league’s top scorer by some margin, and he has also scored five in Napoli’s historic run to the Champions League quarters. Osimhen is not only a ruthless finisher but a scorer of all types of goals – from the tap-in to the spectacular, with either foot or his head – and his four assists in Serie A show he has more to his game than just goalscoring. With Napoli currently 17 points clear of their nearest rivals in Serie A and poised to win their first title since Maradona led them to a second Scudetto in 1990, Osimhen has captured the heart of a gritty, working-class port city that knows how to put its heroes on a pedestal.
The Nigerian international’s face with his mask – worn after he sustained a cheekbone injury – adorns cakes across the southern city. Fans queue up to buy replica masks from stalls outside the stadium. And a song composed by musician Alex Garini about the striker went viral in February and celebrates his goal-scoring ability and his grit to defy the odds. It has been 22 years since any team apart from the big three of Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan won Serie A, with Roma dethroning their local rivals Lazio in 2001. Between them the ‘strisciate’, or striped teams from Turin and Milan, have won the league a total of 74 times, making a title for Napoli a massive event not just for the city of Naples but for the South as a whole. A huge party is expected to kick off in a chaotic, frequently derided one-club city which is often targeted by what in Italy is called “territorial discrimination”, a sort of racism historically directed at the South.
Italy’s North-South divide is as stark as it has ever been and that is why a win for Napoli is far more than just football; it is about pride steeped in the ethos of survival. That glory is within touching distance and can come on Sunday if they beat Salernitana and Lazio get anything other than an outright victory at Inter Milan. Napoli fans are different, they are special; they can do something as crazy as setting up a shrine where the Nigerian god will be worshipped throughout their history. They are that ‘fanatical’.