In the history of SSC Napoli one small Argentinean is the dominating figure. Countless are the articles and books written on the joy and grandeur he brought to Naples in the years between 1984-91. This article on the other hand is about the top five Napoli players through the ages not named Diego Armando Maradona. To put that into perspective it’s a bit like writing a piece on Christian legends not named Jesus!
As with all lists of this kind there are tough choices to be made and not all players who might have deserved a spot can get one. Few can question, however, that these five players have played an instrumental part in the club’s history. They are arranged alphabetically. An attempt to arrange them by importance would be arbitrary and unfair.
The attacker Amadei is not only a Napoli legend. A good argument could actually be made for the position that he is first and foremost a Roma legend. He spent the best part of his illustrious career in the capital before going on to Inter and, as his last club, Napoli in 1950. He stayed in Naples for six seasons as a player before exchanging the pitch with the bench as he with the support of the powerful club president and shipping magnate Achille Lauro took the job as manager.
Amadei was a skillful forward who managed to score seven goals in his just 13 national games. He came to Napoli after rattling the net 42 times in 70 games for Inter. In Napoli he had to use 171 games to score 47 goals, but he remained one of the team’s biggest stars. A status that was later confirmed by his election as manager.
His years as “Mister”, the term Italian players use for the manager, were not exceedingly successful but not horrible either. A 4th place was the best result for Amadei’s men. He left the position in 1959, but quickly came back only to be fired in 1961 as the club was fighting, unsuccessfully as it turned out, against relegation.
At the end of his career Amadei was a legend of the Italian game. In the 1970’s he took the position as head coach of the Italian women’s national team albeit at a time where the feminine version of the game was still quite undeveloped on the peninsula.
The big defender started his career in the small town of Sorrento in the picturesque peninsula south of Naples. Being from the region it was written in the stars that he would one day play for Napoli. After two seasons in the Sorrento, led by another Napoli legend Giancarlo Vitali, Bruscolotti joined the light blue in the summer 1972. He would stay there for 16 seasons.
Giuseppe Bruscolotti was not a technical wonder but he controlled the defense year in and year out. As players came and went he stood tall while working his way into the record book as the player with most appearances for Napoli – 511 all in all. Nicknamed “Pal e’ Fierr” meaning Iron Pole in Neapolitan dialect he was a player who could cause damage on those pesky forwards from the northern teams.
Bruscolotti never played in the Italian national team, and his many years in Napoli brought few triumphs even if the team was generally challenging in the top of the league. He won the Coppa Italia in 1976, but only in 1987, his second to last season came his biggest moment when he at last saw the complete triumph as the team, led by Maradona who had taken over Bruscolotti’s captain’s armband, won Lo Scudetto. In his last season he was playing very little, but it seems like he just wanted a chance to play with the iconic crest on his jersey. A symbol he had fought for more than a decade and a half. And who can blame him?
The Brazilian attacker with the birth name Antônio de Oliveira Filho came to Napoli in the summer 1987 just after the club’s first and historic league title. After banging 25 goals for São Paolo in the season leading up to his transfer and five for Brazil at the 1986 world cup he was a proven goal scorer and a proof that the directors of Napoli were not resting on the laurels.
Careca soon became a success as he teamed up with Maradona and Bruno Giordano to form the aptly named Ma-Gi-Ca trident in the Napoli attack. During Careca’s time in Naples the club won the UEFA cup in 1989 and another Scudetto in 1990. Careca was a fast and clever player who was never challenged as his team’s main target man. He shared the scoring duties with Maradona in a Neapolitan version of the classic “small guy/big guy” partnership.
In his last three seasons after the 1990 title Napoli was on the wane. Maradona left and other key players also started to flee as the club’s economy was deteriorating. Careca stayed longer than he had to in loyalty to the fans and the club that brought him his most memorable moments. After forming a new partnership with the young Gianfranco Zola, Careca left to end his career in Japan. He left a club on rapid decline but also a club rich on sweet memories.
For almost two decades (1962-1978) the Napoli midfield was dominated by Antonio Juliano who by the end of his Napoli career, had notched up 505 games for the Partenopei, which at the time was a clear club record before Giuseppe Bruscolotti would break it in the late 1980’s. The mid 1960’s was a hard time for the club as they had to spend a couple of seasons in Serie B, but as the 1970’s approached they became a steady force in Serie A and even managed to win the 1976 Coppa Italia. That title was Juliano’s only important one, not counting the Anglo-Italian League Cup in 1976 and the Coppe delle Alpi in 1966, as a Napoli player. He just missed the 1962 season where the Partenopei won the cup and promotion to Serie A.
Juliano hovered in the outskirts of the Italian national team for large parts of his career. He was in the squad for three world cups, 1966, 1970 and 1974 but played only one actual world cup match – the famous 1-4 defeat against Brazil in the 1970 final. He didn’t go completely without triumphs though as he played in the 1968 European Championship that Italy won on home turf.
After a final season playing for Bologna Juliano retired from active duty on the pitch and became a director in Napoli instead. In that position he played a key part in bringing first the Dutch star Ruud Krool and later the great Maradona to the club. The titles Juliano had a hard time winning as a player came in numbers as he served the club from the board rooms.
One of the earliest Napoli legends and still one of the greatest, Sallustro played 260 games during his 12 years at the club. He arrived in 1925 at the club Internaples which would become AC Napoli and later SSC Napoli and stayed all the way to 1937 where he chose to play two seasons at a lower level in the neighboring town of Salerno. In his career with SSC Napoli and Internaples, Sallustro scored an impressive 111 goals in 268 games.
Sallustro was born in Paraguay to Italian parents. The family moved to Naples when he was a teenager and the local club became the natural goal for the young attacker who showed great talent and also great fairness as he, due to his wealthy background, refused to receive any wages from the club.
In the early years of Sallustro’s Napoli career the league was divided into two parts. In 1926 Napoli recorded the their worst league finish as they ended the season with only one point after 18 games with only seven goals scored, one by Sallustro, and a staggering 61 conceded. The club should have been relegated but was saved due to “geographical” reasons. The club, and the city, was simply too big to relegate.
Things luckily got better for Sallustro and Napoli as the Serie A was created and the club became a mainstay in the top ten. Due to the competition from mainly Giuseppepe Meazza Sallustro only played a meager two national games for Italy, but in Naples he was, and is, a legend. A short but ill-fated intermezzo as manager, taking over from Amadei, in 1961 didn’t change that.
Napoli’s history is packed with great moments and great players. As it looks now the future is as well. Maybe in 50 years an article like this one can be written on Marek Hamsik, Paolo Cannavaro or Lorenzo Insigne. Hamsik and Cannavaro are already in the top ten of players with most appearances. But do they have what it takes to become legends? Only time will tell.