In tribute to the impending arrival of James Rodriguez to the club, I thought I’d assemble the ultimate collection of South American talent who have donned the Azzurri over the years. Some positions are easier to fill than others but this team is full of talent, charisma and some cult blasts from the past – on and off the pitch. Spoiler alert: Ignacio Fideleff is not in this team.
Player Manager: Vinício (Brazil)
Player: 155 Apps. 70 Goals. 1955-1960
Manager. 1973-1976: P: 113. W: 51 D: 41. L: 21
1978-1980. P:66. W:20 D:29 L:17
[ Thanks to https://twitter.com/oivitamia for help filling in some historical gaps!]
Vinício was a true footballing innovator and visionary bringing, albeit briefly, a quasi-Total Football philosophy to Naples in the 1970’s. His setup was attacking, zonal and involved intense pressing and yielded some spectacular results and some Scudetto near misses (sound familiar to anyone?). Napoli finished third, second and fifth in his first spell and the team he assembled won the 1976 Coppa Italia in his last season of his first, and best, spell.
‘O Lione was a big personality whom the tifosi loved but he was often at war with the owners – a falling out over his contract led to him walking away from the club just a week before the 1976 Coppa Italia final. His second spell was equally stormy but less successful and ended four months before Ruud Kroll, the most successful defensive cog in the Dutch Total Football side, arrived. Imagine what they could have done together?
As a player Vinício was more than useful (he won the Capocannoniere in 1966) and was one of the first true South American superstars at the club. I love a player manager so let’s keep him in his tracksuit and on the bench ready to come on. For a great in depth read about him, see here.
45 apps. 2013-2018.
Ok so not the glitziest start for this team but Rafael has a place in our history, saving from Simone Padoin to win us the Supercoppa against Juventus. Only one full season with the team but I’ll always remember that epic 6-5 shoot-out (see here).
Camilo Zúñiga (Colombia)
162 Apps. 4 Goals. 2009-2016.
Again not a superstar but back in the days when we played 3-4-3 Zuniga was a vital, super fast and hard working member of the squad who could play either side as a wing back. He started our 2012 Coppa Italia Final victory against Juve, and scored the goal that secured Napoli’s first Champions league appearance against Inter in 2011. He also remains a vocal champion of the club to this day.
Andre Cruz (Brazil)
98 Apps. 14 Goals. 1994-1997
Roberto Ayala (Argentina)
96 Apps. 1 Goal. 1995-1998
Once the superstars of the Scudetti winning sides departed in the early and mid 90’s, the team’s brightest talents could be found in the centre of defence. Two hugely sophisticated South American defenders kept us in the top league for much longer than we arguably deserved. Ayala’s time at Napoli is underrated, he was majestic during three seasons – even in the relegation year, 1998. Cruz and Ayala were together for two seasons and papered over a lot of cracks, finishing with the 6th best defensive record in 1996/97 despite placing 13th overall. Whilst Ayala has become regarded as one of the greatest ever defenders, Cruz was arguably more eye catching whilst with us with some wonder goals, (see all 14 strikes here).
Right Wing Back
240 Apps. 64 Goals.1962-1975 (with a spell at Bari in the middle)
Ok so I’m totally cheating here – Cané was a winger during his time but, with the enforcers in CM, I don’t mind throwing caution to the wind – and if he was born in a different time he could have been converted to a wing back with his famed intelligence and athleticism. He was a pioneer for several reasons, being a high profile black player in a time when this was rare. He remained loyal to the club and the city, staying with us after relegation and getting us back up – he even re-signed after some really shoddy treatment towards the end of the career. There’s a recent (fantastic) article about him by the guys @CalcioEngland here which all true Partenopei should check out. He might not be in his natural position in this team but I couldn’t leave out a true adopted son of the city!
179 Apps. 9 Goals. 19 Assists. 2015-
133 Apps. 14 Goals. 2 Assists. 1988-1992.
Wow – what a midfield this would be! Both Brazilians are the fiercest of competitors with incredible stamina, work rate and underrated significance for their teams. Neither were/are simple enforcers though, Allan often brings in his dribbling skills into play and Alemão chipped in with some vital goals – including our first following a one-two with his fellow Brazilian Careca in the UEFA Cup Final Victory in 1989. My old PE Teacher, an eccentric Welshman, was OBSESSED with Alemão and often played us VHS playbacks of his games. He was keen to point out that for all his stamina, Alemão had great awareness of the game on the pitch. Allan is likely to leave this summer but I’d love him to stay and win some significant silverware like his compatriot.
Diego Maradona (Argentina)
258 Apps. 115 Goals. 27 Assists. 1984-1991.
What can be said about the greatest? He simply IS Napoli and we are lucky as Partenopei to have our history and DNA intertwined with not just the greatest South American player but the greatest player of all time. Be sure to check out the Asif Kapadia documentary (out in the US on HBO in September) but, the ultimate way to discover Diego’s era with us is John Ludden’s excellent book – written with a suitable amount of flair and charisma. I should imagine quite a few of the players in this team chose Napoli, in part, because of Maradona’s legacy and it’s important to note that James has mentioned him in respect to his interest in joining us. Grazie Diego!
Edinson Cavani (Uruguay)
138 Apps. 104 Goals. 2010-2013
Careca: 221 Apps. 96 Goals. 1987-1993
Attila Sallustro (Paraguay)
266 Apps. 108 Goals. 1926-1937
Not a bad front three with 308 goals between them. Both Cavani and Careca have a quality I adore in a striker: they can score any type of goal – good in the air, good outside and inside the area and they scored some absolute golazzo’s for us. They also are remembered as being part of iconic strike forces – Careca being a vital part of the legendary Ma-Gi-Ca trio whereas Cavani-Lavezzi-Hamsik was, for many Partenopei of my generation, the first time we could really revel in world class attacking link up play. Like the midfield setup, it would be great fun to see these two together.
Sallustro was the first club legend and the first SSC Napoli man to be worshipped by the city. I’m not going to pretend that I’ve seen him play but he set the trend for South Americans to arrive in the city and become adopted sons. We have a long and respected history and it is one of the things I love about this club. I’d recommend using this summer to connect with some of the stories behind these historical players, I’m sure you’ll learn something new about the team and the city. Sallustro, for example, came from a wealthy family and so didn’t take a wage for the majority of his career. Imagine that these days in the world of Mino Raiola?
Lavezzi, Fonseca, Britos, Gargano, Altafini, Sosa.
There were some guys that were hard to leave out – I have a huge soft spot for both Lavezzi and El Pampa Sosa. Daniel Fonseca was my first favourite player, Altafini was another bygone superstar and Gargano gave everything he had for the club. Britos is in there to make the tea at half time and use his ‘skills’ (best utilized when he got sent off against Juve) if things get spicy during games.
By Frank Sidekick