Once Upon a Time in Naples by John Ludden

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Naples provided the best and worst of stages for Maradona. Italy's third biggest city and, with due deference to Florence and the capital, the most obsessed by football, it had never lifted the Serie A title. Maradona though regarded as the world's greatest footballer, had been pushed out at Barcelona, after Terry Venables had decided his cocaine habit and wild partying outweighed his ability.

Barcelona were big enough to tell Maradona to leave but, for seven years, Naples bowed to him. He delivered, taking the club to Lo Scudetto and the Uefa Cup, but with the city offering copious opportunities for off-field over-indulgence his game declined and Napoli's fortunes with it. Ultimately, Maradona left in disgrace.

This absorbing tale is told with enthusiasm and knowledge in John Ludden's Once Upon A Time In Naples, which details the pertinent back story of Naples' bitter relationship with the sneering north of Italy. But while it is a great tale it is not an easy read.

The florid style leaves no cliché unturned. The Emperor Nero, Mount Vesuvius and San Gennaro all feature in passing while Maradona is variously referred to as Pibe de Oro, the king of Naples, El Rei, a God, etc. A good sub-editor would have cut 50 pages out without losing any of its colour and substance. An appendix would also have been useful. Like the man, his Italian story would have been better with some discipline.