For much of the last decade, Juventus have been the top team in Italian football. The Turin-based club won Serie A nine seasons in a row. For most of that run, they were pushed all the way by Napoli. In a seven-year spell during Juventus’ success, Napoli finished second on four occasions, and twice ended the season in third.
They established themselves as the second best club in Italy during that period, but they failed to kick on and break Juventus’ stranglehold on the league. Those who bet on football may have admired Napoli, but they will have known that Juventus was still the reliable pick. The likes of Rafael Benítez, Maurizio Sarri, and Carlo Ancelotti all sat in the dugout at the Stadio San Paolo, since renamed to the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. All of those managers tried, and failed, to take Napoli to the top.
Despite their continued presence at the top of the table, Napoli have a relatively empty trophy cabinet. The likes of Juventus, Internazionale, and AC Milan have dominated the top tier of Italian football throughout the years, but Napoli also sit behind the likes of Genoa, Torino, Bologna, and Pro Vercelli in top flight titles won. The Neapolitan side have won Serie A twice, the same amount as Lazio and Fiorentina, and one fewer than Roma.
The fact that a group of such storied clubs have, between them, only won the league nine times shows how much of a stranglehold the trio of Juventus and the Milan clubs have on the competition, with many of the other clubs mentioned having picked up league titles in the early days of Italian football.
Napoli’s two Serie A successes came in the seasons of 1986-87 and 1989-90. It’s perhaps unsurprising, given they named their stadium after him, but Diego Maradona played a pivotal role in both. The Argentine had led his country to World Cup success in the summer of ’86, and he was a talismanic figure for Napoli during their league campaign, driving them to victory. Napoli finished runners up for the next two seasons, before repeating the feat.
Although it was a golden era for the club, the fact remains that they were only side able to challenge the status quo of Italian football at the time with the help of one of the game’s greatest ever players, during the peak of his career. While football has moved on, the challenge remains the same. When both Milanese clubs were struggling, Napoli secured second place regularly, but they struggled to prove themselves Juventus’ equals.
Now that Juventus have entered a period of decline, it seems the opportunity to grow their trophy collection has slipped through their fingers. The space at the top has been taken, first by Inter, and now by Milan. Napoli will no doubt back themselves to push these clubs in a title challenge, and make life difficult for them, but it’s hard to see how Napoli will reach a point of truly rivalling them, and winning Serie A again, in the near future.