The cult of Maradona runs strong in Naples

It is almost 30 years since Diego Maradona ended his remarkable playing spell at Napoli but a year on from his death at the age of 60 the Argentine great is as present as ever in the Neapolitan world. His name is stitched on to shirts, daubed on the walls of the southern Italian city and etched into the hearts of the people, many of whom are too young to have ever seen him play. And on Thursday, the first anniversary of his death, a bronze statue will be unveiled in front of the stadium which now bears his name — Stadio Diego Armando Maradona — to celebrate the "eternal" link with the "Pibe de Oro", the golden boy. Diego is everywhere, from the central station all the way to the official Napoli store where his face stares out from the stylised fingerprint on the jersey in the window. The shirt, worn by the Napoli players in November, is probably one of the last to be found in the city. Produced in limited numbers and sold for charity, these collector's edition jerseys have long sold out on the club's website. For those who set sail for Naples in memory of Maradona, the first stop is often Mario Filardi's famous fresco in the Spanish Quarter painted in 1990 and restored in 2016. It is a meandering walk from the ferry terminal and the wandering pilgrim is sure to pass other images painted on the walls as well as posters for the film "The Hand of God", Paolo Sorrentino's homage to the Naples of the 1980s which is released this Wednesday in cinemas in Italy. But the stroll to the Spanish Quarter is worth it. "It was important to come", says Aicha, 17, who braved heavy rain to come to meditate in front of the famous mural which shows a shaggy-haired Maradona in Napoli's powder blue shirt running earnestly towards goal. It is in a humble surrounding, set back from the road, often found with a couple of cars parked in front. But this yard is dedicated to the worship of "god" Maradona, and adorned with photos, flags, jerseys and other relics left by the football faithful. Aisha came all the way across Italy from Bari on the east coast, around 260 kilometres, with her family to "see the way the city remembers him". "You can see that it's not just Napoli shirts, but most of the teams he's played with, and pictures of him as a player and also as a man," she told AFP. "It's interesting how normal people, not just supporters, bonded with him." Facundo Perez, 26, an Argentinian living in Europe, also came specially to Naples to "greet" Maradona, a year after his death.

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