Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid had won the UEFA Champions League and were about to take the United States by storm. They were scheduled to play Manchester United at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor in an International Champions Cup match that was expected to shatter all kinds of attendance records for a soccer game in America.
Tens of thousands of supporters and media alike flocked to the small town in Southern Michigan to see stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Wayne Rooney and Iker Casillas.
The game drew a total of 109,318 fans creating a truly awe-inspiring moment.
However, it featured two of the biggest clubs on the planet. Napoli fans could never envision their team playing in such a large venue in the United States.
Five years later though, Carletto returns to the historic stadium and this time he will be sitting on the Napoli bench.
Yes, the NAPOLI bench. At Michigan Stadium. Against Barcelona.
Napoli aren’t just coming to the United States, they are making a statement.
The club could have made some noise by coming over and playing MLS clubs in friendly matches in smaller stadiums.
They wanted to come to the United States for the first time in the De Laurentiis-era with a bang though which is why they opted to play one of the most prestigious clubs on the planet in one of the grandest stadiums on the continent.
A couple of preseason friendlies across the pond may not seem like a big deal to most, but make no mistake about it – this is massive step in the right direction for a club that has largely ignored its international supporters.
For years, fans of calcio would travel across the continent to watch their favourite teams play in American football stadiums, soccer stadiums or even baseball stadiums. Roma, Juventus, Milan and Inter have all been regulars in the International Champions Cup but the Partenopei were nowhere to be found.
Despite consistently qualifying for the Champions League, they lacked the international presence required to compete at the highest levels. Even worse, they seemed to lack the ambition of wanting to grow globally.
This is a real signal of intent from the club that is all about to change.
Napoli playing Barcelona in Miami and Michigan means much more than just giving North American fans the opportunity to see their favourite club live, it also gives the club a chance to grow its fan base.
Just imagine 109,000+ American fans watching a club that they may not have even heard of five or ten years ago. While most in attendance will likely be fans of Barcelona or Lionel Messi specifically, they will still be exposed to the brilliance of Fabian Ruiz, the joy of watching Lorenzo Insigne or Dries Mertens and the beast that is Kalidou Koulibaly.
Marketing is everything and Napoli’s brand will unquestionably be strengthened simply because of this trip. Children attending the game(s) will grow up with memories of watching Napoli for the rest of their lives.
Fans of the club should be excited that their team is finally taking steps to try and be the global powerhouse that they have always deserved to be.
Now, fans can start to dream big.
By Marco D’Onofrio