Napoli: European Return For Southern Giants

XXX XXXSenior Writer IJuly 17, 2008

(Published by request of writer James Sugrue)

The Intertoto Cup hasn't exactly enjoyed the best of reputations in its short history and tellingly this looks set to be the last time it makes an appearance on the fixture list as UEFA plan to reshuffle the continental deck.

Many teams have been less than enthusiastic about entering a competition at such an early stage of their pre-season, but it has thrown us a real gem this summer. Napoli are back in European competition. With the exception of an unlikely Scudetto, few things could have thrown up memories of the fantastic Diego Maradona-led Azzurri side so well.

Admittedly, a single two-legged Intertoto encounter with Panionios isn't quite as glamorous as their UEFA Cup triumph in 1989, but it could start them along that road. They do say the early bird catches the worm after all, and what a worm that would be for us long-suffering Napoli fans.

The additions of Christian Maggio, German Denis and Leandro Rinaudo to last season's stars, such as Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik, makes for an interesting blend and there have been plenty of promising signs during the summer training camp in Austria.

A win over the Greeks would see them entered into the UEFA Cup and then who knows? Just look how well Fiorentina did last term when they put their minds to it.

Many clubs would have turned their noses up at this opportunity, but not the Partenopei. Their willingness to take risks to progress in the quickest possible manner shows the ambition of all those involved in the club, not just the fans but also the likes of Coach Edy Reja, President Aurelio De Laurentiis and director general Pierpaolo Marino.

Everyone at the Stadio San Paolo is pushing in the same direction and they seem to be doing it with some force.

Some people will still dismiss the opening match against Panionios as a meaningless disruption to pre-season, but it is much more than that. It is a warning shot aimed at the Serie A big boys, a statement of intent to make some of their more wealthy opponents pay for their complacency.

There was a reason Napoli's home form was the best in the top flight last term and Naples looks likely to be an even tougher place to visit in 2008-09.

So I for one will be pleased to see the Azzurri run out on to the pitch on Saturday and, even if I won't mourn its passing, I will offer a silent thank you to the Intertoto Cup for giving us an early opportunity to once more see the Partenopei colours being paraded around Europe again.

(Published by request of writer James Sugrue)