For some, Diego Maradona is the greatest soccer player of the 20th century, for others — mainly England supporters — he is the cheating possessor of the hand of God.
However, in Italy, he is and always will be the patron saint of Naples and just as saints have their altars, so Maradona has his museum, an extraordinary treasure trove of artifacts that includes the left boot with which the Argentine scored twice against Belgium in the semi-finals of the 1986 World Cup.
You can also find his first contract with SSC Napoli and even the sofa from his Naples apartment where singer Julio Iglesias once sat. It is all there in the cellar museum.
Maradona arrived at Napoli as a world-record US$10.48 million signing from Barcelona in July 1984. His time in Catalonia had been difficult and Naples was a bolthole. He was to stay seven years, captaining the team to their first-ever Serie A title in 1986-1987. They did it again three years later and during Maradona’s stay, they also won the Coppa Italia, the UEFA Cup and the Supercoppa Italiana. It was a golden age that Napoli have never come close to repeating, so it is no surprise to find a museum that commemorates such a rich epoch.
Massimo Vignati’s museum, though, is one of a kind.
It does not appear on any map of Naples, nor is it in travel guides, and entry is free. And yet, this basement of a typical building in Secondigliano, a tough neighborhood in the north of the city, breathes all things Maradona.
It is a delightful melange of Maradona mania with photographs, pennants, balls, armbands and shirts, some washed or signed, others not.
Some items equate almost to holy relics — the bench on which Maradona changed at the Stadio San Paolo and the K-Way jacket that features in the memorable footage of him ball-juggling to the sound of Opus’ Live is Life during an incredible warm-up before facing Bayern Munich in 1989.
This astonishing hoard also testifies to the unique bond between the Argentine genius and a family that was at the heart of his seven-year stay in Naples.
“I was fortunate that for 37 years my dad was the caretaker of the San Paolo Stadium and the Napoli changing rooms. And my mother was Maradona’s housekeeper and cook,” Vignati said.
His sister babysat Diego’s daughters, Dalma and Giannina, while Massimo, as a child and then adolescent, rubbed shoulders with the city’s idol on a daily basis.
“We were with Diego from Monday to Sunday,” said Vignati, looking at the photos of a time when the Argentine’s apartment on the heights of Posillipo, an upscale district of the city, was like his second home.
“He and his wife gave us all these things because they knew we were a lot of children, five boys and six girls,” he said.
“I was a ballboy during Maradona’s seven seasons. On Mondays, I went to play five-a-side, I did not go to school,” he said. “And on Tuesdays, sometimes he took me to the Napoli training session... ‘Diego, let’s go in the Ferrari!’”
For a long time, the wonders now on display in the Vignati cellar were locked away at the San Paolo.
“My father had two rooms,” said Vignati, whose second son is called Diego.
“One for all these memories and one for drinking a good Neapolitan coffee,” he said.
“After his death, I brought everything here, but the club knows that this place exists,” he said. “If they make a museum, I will always be ready. I hope everything can go back to the stadium, it was my father’s dream.”
During his last visit to Naples in 2017, Maradona fell into the arms of Lucia, Vignati’s mother, whom he calls his “Neapolitan mamma.”
“These are just beautiful memories,” she said. “He was kind, someone good, very passionate. When he left, it was as if I had lost a son.”
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