Over the last few years, the only team that’s looked capable of challenging Juventus for the Serie A title has been Napoli.
Partenopei once again finished-up behind the mighty Old Lady last term and even spent long periods of the campaign at the very top of the table, only for their title-push to unravel in the last few matches of the season.
In fact, they’ve finished up in second-place three times in the last six seasons, all the while boasting some of the worlds best players in their ranks, including Gonzalo Higuain, Dries Mertens and Jorginho.
This season, they’ve been forced to rebuild once again with manager Maurizio Sarri moving to Chelsea and taking Jorginho with him, while their reliable goalie Pepe Reina left to warm the bench at AC Milan.
But under new boss Carlo Ancelotti, they’ve still got enough about them to take on Juve’s well-oiled machine.
In truth, the real issue that’s holding them back involves their stadium.
The Stadio San Paolo, located in the western suburb of Fuorigrotta, is the third-largest stadium in Italy – with only Milan’s San Siro and the Stadio Olimpico surpassing it in terms of capacity, although the attendance-levels have dropped significantly in recent years.
Originally built in 1959 and renovated in time for the 1990 World Cup, it’s currently going through a new redevelopment phase which has caused numerous problems.
It could even result in the team playing it’s home matches in their upcoming Champions League campaign some 160 miles away from Naples in Bari.
Club president Aurelio de Laurentiis has been openly critical of the redevelopment’s progress, claiming the stadium looks like a “toilet”.
Last month, he said: “For me, it’s a nightmare. Such a bad stadium limits the status of Napoli at an international level.
“In the meantime, I’ve asked UEFA to authorise us to play Champions League matches at Bari.
“I’ll pay for 1,000 buses out of my own pocket so Napoli fans can attend the match.”
It really could come to that.
Last month, it was reported that the seating in the stadium had failed to meet UEFA standards, with seats supposedly meant to be replaced over the summer; that of course didn’t happen.
There’s even a part of the stadium which is off-limits; the infamous third-tier, which is mostly closed off to the public with fences.
Declared ‘unsafe’ by the club, the only part of the third-tier that is not closed off can be seen in the video below. Hope you have a head for heights.
Alternatively, the club is said to be keen on building a brand new stadium.
But this raises several problems, not least because obtaining building permits in the city has become increasingly difficult.
What’s more, the city has seemingly refused to help out financially, while local media outlet Cronache di Napoli have claimed that McDonald’s have approached the club offering money to help them build their new home, in exchange for naming rights.
This is another difficult subject, as it was a few years ago that city councillors planned to rename the venue after iconic ex-player Diego Maradona, but backed down in the face of fierce opposition from the church – who want to keep the stadium named after Saint Paul.
With ongoing disputes between Naples’ government and de Laurentiis, it seems the stadium might remains in decay for a while yet.
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