As Juventus and Napoli go face to face on Friday for what looks like a showdown for the Italiian Serie A, here is a detailed exploration into the differences of their two flag-bearers, who to this day symbolise the two clubs.
Some rivalries are good. Some rivalries are great. Some rivalries are legendary. One rivalry is eternal. A rivalry that marked a golden era an Italian football. A rivalry that epitomizes the number 10.
The Arrival of a Saviour
May 1982. Juve secretly held negotiations with Michel Platini in Italy & speedily came to an agreement in one day to sign him on a free transfer with a basic compensation of 800,000 francs [~€129k] to Saint-Etienne. As per a research by Playratings in August 2017, Platini to Juve is the best piece of business in history with respect to today’s market. The Frenchman is estimated to cost €5m today.
Only Michel, his wife Christelle, his representatives led by agent Bernard Genestar, and the leaders of Juve knew about this operation. When Michel travelled to meet Juve, his wife had cited ‘out shopping for a bit’, as a reason to Claude Bez during a three hour fruitless wait for the chief of Bordeaux in his pursuit to sign her husband. Such was the secrecy of the coup for Le Roi.
July 1984. 75,000 fans were present at the San Paolo to welcome Diego Maradona to Napoli for a world record fee of 13.5 billion Italian lire [~£5 million] after complicated discussions that spanned for fifty long days. According to Playratings, Maradona would cost €181m in the current market.
At 06:30 pm on July 5th, despite an initial plan to bring him to the stadium in a helicopter, El Diego arrived at the San Paulo on foot with a banner that read ‘Maradona, the god’. He would juggle the ball and send a kiss to the fans as he ran around the stadium speaking of his pride to play for the Naples based outfit.
0 European Cups. La Madama had won a lot in Italy before Le Roi had arrived.They had won 24 domestic trophies in the Serie A era that included 18 Scudetti and 6 Italian Cups. They were still, in fact, the reigning Champions when Michel arrived in Turin. A side with six players that started every game of Italy’s World Cup winning tournament in Spain, 1982. Albeit a cycle was definitely ending amid an aging crop of players.
For all their domestic dominance, Juve were yet to make a great impression in Europe and especially in the continent’s most prestigious competition, the European Cup. Prior to Michel’s arrival, the Turin side had participated in 30 seasons of competitive football in Europe but had only reached four finals and had only won a solitary UEFA Cup. What’s more noteworthy is that they had reached only one European Cup final, which they lost to Johann Cruijff’s Ajax at Belgrade in 1973.
0 Scudetti. The Partenopei were yet to win a Scudetto before El Diego had arrived. A cycle was, however, opening with the likes of Ciro Ferrara emerging from their youth and the addition of Salvatore Bagni from Inter.
Napoli were yet to launch themselves in Italy, let alone Europe swinging from Serie-A to Serie-B and being involved in relegation top-flight battles. They had secured only seven top 3 finishes that included just 2 second placed finishes in the Italian Championship. They had also only won two Italian Cups in three finals. After leaving Juve as a legend, Omar Sívori had come the closest to help the Azzurri win a Scudetto. He was seen as their Maradona before Maradona himself due to their Argentinian descent and style of play with a magical left foot.
Stability. Not all seemed bright for Platini initially. He had suffered a double fracture in his right leg aged 19 and broke an ankle in three places aged 23. Yet despite that he had finished third in France Football’s Ballon d’Or list on two occasions, one each with Nancy and ASSE. He had scored 209 goals in 360 games at club level while scoring 26 goals in 40 games for France. He was consistently among the top goalscorers in the French Championship and in the UEFA Cup.
Platini had won the first and second division of French league football while also winning one French cup, He had participated in two World Cups, even establishing himself as a captain and leading France to the semi-finals of the 1982 World Cup before losing to West Germany on penalties. He was arriving in Italy aged 27 as perhaps the best player in the world overcoming obstacles put in front of him.
Platini was the reserved and charming Frenchman, able to use his political savvy to protect himself and his family from the turbulence of life. Maradona was the poor boy from the “barrio”, used, abused and manipulated by a clan of agents and friends who collectively failed to protect him from drug addiction.
– The Irish Times on Platini-Maradona rivalry in 1999
Maradona left Argentina in 1982 as a 21-year old sensation with 144 league goals in 206 games. He had won the Argentinian first division and the FIFA World Youth Championships. With 13 goals in 34 games for the national team, he had participated in one Copa America apart from one World Cup that saw him get sent off in La selección’s final group game against Brazil as they crashed out.
At Barcelona, El Diego endured a tough time. He had suffered hepatitis and a serious ankle injury. He was involved in that famous brawl with Athletic Bilbao players. He was missing training. His extreme lifestyle with cocaine and partying was an issue for the club with whom he was constantly in dispute. He hadn’t played a single game for Argentina while he was at Barça. Despite that he won three trophies with the Catalan club. He was arriving in Italy aged only 23 but at the back of many problems on and off the pitch.
Massimo Mauro, a former midfielder turned politician, has had the privilege of playing with Zico, Platini and Maradona. He wrote of his pride by dedicating an entire book, ‘Ho giocato con tre geni’, addressing his experiences to have ‘played with three geniuses.’
He is an unrivalled Champion. The greatest of them all. You had to be alone to watch him to fully understand his genius. It was a lesson to watch him. He applied intelligence every-time he kicked a ball. He was extraordinary for his leadership, his choices during the games and how he managed his time between his teammates, coach, and President. But he never loved Italian football.
A sublime individualist that got the better of his teammates in order to get the best out of himself and establish himself as a leader. He would tell us that he’d arrive near the box ten times and leave with nine goals. He’d remind us that he’s the best. He always followed his words with facts and he was never presumptuous. So, in the end, his teammates were always grateful to him because he actually solved so many of their problems with his genius.
He didn’t need to train but still he was a serious and great professional who never missed a single training session. Never late to training. Sometimes he would even arrive to train covered with dirt in slippers because he had just finished playing tennis.
He is football. The representation of football. Whatever he did and said. The greatest of all time. An authentic phenomenon. A pure talent. He was able to create conditions on his own. Great intelligence but also great difficulties. He wasn’t fully free to live his life. He was a prisoner of the city.
His best quality was his generosity. He never asked his teammates to adapt to him and he always adapted to the needs of the team or the coach. He was available at the disposal of his team during good and bad periods. Always a positive with all.
If he kept his demons away, he could have done even more. Never too many words. He never used to tell us he’s the best in the locker-room or training. Although, we used to rarely see him in training [laughs].
By Arjun Pradeep @IndianRegista on Twitter is a Juventus fan and a student of the Italian Serie A