The following article, written by Jon Marthaler, appears on the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Italy’s north vs. south battle stirs soccer passion
With four months to go in the European soccer season, the title races in four of the five biggest leagues are basically decided. In Italy, though, just one point separates the top two — perennial powerhouse Juventus and afterthought Napoli. If you’re keeping an eye on a European league this spring, Italy is the place to watch.
To understand what this title race means in Italy, you have to look at the differences between the country’s north and south. Northern Italy is the country’s industrial center, up near Switzerland, always in a hurry. Southern Italy is Mediterranean, all about food and family and religion — and looked down upon by northern Italians as, effectively, hillbillies.
Juventus, the best team of the north, almost needs no introduction. Its 33 league titles, including the last six, speak volumes. Napoli, meanwhile, has a more checkered past but remains the only team from southern Italy to break the northern stranglehold on the league title.
In some ways, Napoli’s history begins and ends with Diego Maradona. In 1984, Napoli paid a then-record $10 million to lure Maradona — the world’s best player — from a troubled spell in Barcelona. In 1987 and again in 1990, he led Napoli to the title. The triumphs were met with nothing short of rapture in Naples. The celebratory taunting was mostly directed northward at Juventus, which — with 22 titles at that point — stood for everything the southerners hated about the north’s dominance. Continue reading on the Minneapolis Star Tribune.