“No one in the world like the blues”
NAPLES – He was there, and how if he was, on May 10, 1987 and April 29, 1990: and it was an ocean of emotions, thrown on a different city, in that football that first tasted of nothing and then, instead , healed the wound of 88. Of course he was there, overwhelmed by himself, by that obsession that devoured him, by the magic of an era that had become unrepeatable for a (quite) while and is now about to be reproduced. Corrado Ferlaino becomes president of Naples on January 18, takes 6686 days to win his first championship, waits for another 1085 to give himself another one, before that gigantic void – between relegations to B, the Bankruptcy – does not attract Aurelio De Laurentiis and opens a new cycle on 6 September 2004. It is not yet known what will happen, when it will happen, but he imagines that it could happen, perhaps that it should happen, because now everyone knows about Naples, in this football in which Ferlaino will settle down again, this time as an eternal boyfriendto live the future as if it had remained gently stranded in the memories of its past.
What has changed in Ferlaino, 36 – or 33 – years later?
“Absolutely nothing. The feeling is identical, it’s called love. Then, at the time, at the end of the first half I left the stadium, while now in the 45th minute I spend everything and start going around the house. If Napoli is winning, when I imagine it’s over, I turn the TV back on; and if things were going badly, I try to see if it works by changing the TV. I have to avoid certain torments, you understand me».
What does the man who made superstition a mantra predict?
«What everyone thinks and nobody says, for obvious reasons: but now I can derogate, I know that there are no adversaries, nor dangers. Reasoning coldly: Napoli won the championship. You can write, without fear of contradiction. And the only answer we are now waiting for is the date on which the arithmetic conquest will arrive: in my opinion, seven or five days from the end, it will be possible to begin the celebrations».
A Ferlaino like you’ve never seen before.
«It’s the power of a team that entertains you, that makes you happy, that plays in a wonderful way, like none in Italy and perhaps even in Europe. A way of expressing oneself that does not involve calculation, there is a technical and also a psychological process».
Give human form to these thoughts and make a name.
«This is recognition for everyone, from the club, to the sporting director, to the coach and to the players, but I consider Spalletti to be the most extraordinary protagonist of this enterprise. For me, the strongest coach in the world right now. He made the impossible possible, because I don’t forget that in August, in times of forecasts, no one would have gone that far. But it’s true, the team is strong, very strong.”
Does Spalletti have anything from Bianchi or Bigon?
«Coaches are never alike. Everyone is just like themselves. Spalletti had shown in his career that he has enormous qualities, his teams have always transmitted joy. This time he went further, filling Napoli not only with beauty but also with practicality which is useful in certain phases of the season».
A team that however represents a time, it must be said.
«De Laurentiis was very good and also lucky, a not irrelevant merit because you have to know how to earn the attention of fate and then it is essential to be good at managing it. But having Giuntoli, a champion, made his life easier. Last summer’s transfer market has few, I would say no precedents».
Would you have refounded?
“It doesn’t matter what I or anyone else would have thought at the time. What Napoli has been able to do is central, putting Koulibaly on the market and letting some symbols, players who have entered the hearts of the people, go away without making drama. They had faith in alternative choices, which few knew about. I think of Kim, more than anyone else, because the curiosity then is that the Napoli of the starters, let’s call them that, is made up of nine-elevenths of players from past seasons. There was a seed, then».
Take a break: who do you like more?
«I have never fallen in love with an athlete, except for Maradona and also for Careca. But Diego was football, the greatest, and Careca gave me satisfaction: I was in Brazil on vacation, obviously I watched matches, if one was being played under torrential rain I noticed this elegant, uncontrollable striker. I inquired, I immediately began negotiating him, other clubs arrived, but I played ahead and made a deal: I didn’t even pay that much».
It is as if he had declared himself, therefore, even without naming names.
«Osimhen is exciting. He can do everything, not just goals. He becomes decisive, he makes the difference, he has a speed that is rare. And behind him then there is Simeone, an Argentine, and this would be enough to make us like him. Then add to it that he scores crazy goals. However, for the avoidance of doubt, I continue to reward the game».
There’s only one team in command, with a huge lead, and that’s a rarity.
«Milan and Inter collapsed for having made the wrong market and certain choices; Juventus is out due to the incident that has become known; I was afraid of Roma, I confess, but they lost in Naples and are out: otherwise, I would have still considered him an opponent».
Juve is the photograph of a sick football.
«And also of a corporate condition that has no equal in the universe: being a company always and only managed by one family, that of the Agnellis, in the long run generates suffering. The world has changed, with Bosman it has gone worse, the clubs have lost their bond, they have no chance to score because after a while the players are free. I know it’s a slippery speech, it deserves deeper analysis, but I’ll summarize. Capital evaporates in the short term, three to five years. And certain errors become decisive. Then fighting internationally with such rich clubs, English and German, becomes a massacre ».
Napoli also has the Champions League.
«Yes, beautiful, but go around asking people: what do you prefer and see what results you would get with a survey like that. The fans want the Scudetto, they’ve been waiting for it for thirty-three years.”
What did it cost you, in financial terms?
“I don’t remember and it’s better this way. It was a kind of disaster for the corporate coffers. At the time, you will remember, match prizes existed: a point is worth a total, the victory and the two points had a different effect, as it was obvious that it was. The players’ representatives came to me: president, we have to raise the bonus. And I, who don’t think we would have won the championship, thought of gambling: let’s do this, leave everything unchanged and define a figure in case of success. It was a bloodbath, believe me.”
What would you recommend to De Laurentiis, then?
«In the meantime, it would be necessary to experience society in order to possibly express an opinion, even if it were the most irrelevant. But do you think that De Laurentiis needs my suggestions? Macchi..!».
Forgive the banality, it was more difficult to win in the 80s or, if it were to happen, to do it now?
«There is no distinction: it is always complicating, I imagine now as then. Naples starts economically at a disadvantage compared to the other powers, it is indisputable. But it has the strength of ideas that make it unique. I came up with a great team with a footballer inside who marked not an era but eternity. And De Laurentiis had the courage to start a cycle and to complete it by now in the same way: because this Naples is really strong, it reflects a long project, a courageous direction».
At times, even recently, accused.
«Because there’s a rush, because there’s a desire for success, and this happened in my day as well. But in football things don’t always go as you would like, nor can they evolve as you imagine. A bounce moves you one result. But in the long run, the effort pays off. And if you can then put together a sporting director like that with a coach of this stature, then you can also solve the equation. Add to it the difficulties of the Milanese, who do not take away any merit, and the picture is the one told by the rankings that makes everyone uncomfortable, because this championship marks the differences between philosophical concepts. Napoli was an example for everyone».
Have you already chosen what to do on the day when, if fate doesn’t deceive your dream, Napoli will simply have to enjoy their triumph even mathematically?
“I’ll watch half a game, I guess. And then I’ll let the city tell me what happened. I don’t post my habits and rituals, I have to protect my heart».