The Napoli manager was quick to pay tribute to the club’s icon after his recent tragic passing
Football returned to Naples on Thursday but normality did not as the city continued to mourn the death of legend Diego Maradona.
Napoli‘s first match since the passing of their most iconic star this week was played out to the noise of songs and fireworks despite the empty stands at the Stadio San Paolo.
Captain Lorenzo Insigne laid a wreath before kick-off, while the Napoli team lined up in ‘Maradona 10’ shirts – a jersey that was retired long before Maradona’s death. His name was displayed around the border of the pitch.
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After an emotional two days, Gennaro Gattuso’s side turned in a laboured performance but still ran out 2-0 winners.
Former Napoli defender Armando Anastasio – a Neapolitan, of course – scored a scruffy own goal to break the deadlock in the first half, with Hirving Lozano’s well-taken second from the bench making sure of victory.
But attention soon turned back to the man who used to grace the San Paolo, unsurprisingly the centre of Gattuso’s post-match comments.
“Diego is the pride of this city,” the coach told Sky Sport Italia. “They saw the best footballer in the world.
“He represented the number 10, a whole people, he made them dream. Many guys are called Diego. He is more important than San Gennaro.”
Gattuso added: “I have many wonderful memories of Diego; I had the opportunity to dine with him a few times.
“He died but will never die, because he was an extraordinary person. He did so many extraordinary things. He also made some mistakes in life, but he will live forever.
“Even last night, driving through the city to the hotel, you could see that the city breathed a different air. It is a great loss. Diego came from another planet, a legend.”
Napoli forward Dries Mertens also paid tribute to Maradona after the match and admitted it was hard to pull on the Argentine’s iconic No.10 shirt.
“He made such a big impact on this city and for everyone in the south of Italy. I want to be positive, and focus on my memories of a smiling man who loved football,” Mertens said post-match.
“It was tough to pull that shirt on. In some ways, it was always a dream, but not like this.”