Ask most Italian football fans about their favourite teams, and the usual suspects are mentioned: Juventus, Roma, Lazio, AC Milan, or Inter Milan. These have been, without question, the top dogs of Serie A for the last two decades. All of these teams have one thing in common: they are based in the wealthier northern or central regions of the country. In recent times, southern Italy was considered the wasteland of Italian football. Until now that is.
Not since the days of Diego Maradona has southern Italy fielded a competitive team for the Champions League, and maybe even the Scudetto. For the first time in ages there are two such teams in the south, both with a real shot at fourth place or higher.
Naples is once again full of optimism as Napoli currently sit tied for third and Sicily is equally thrilled now that Palermo are tied for fifth with Sampdoria, Roma, and mighty Inter. Napoli look to have developed quite a strike force, with Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi popping in a combined 13 goals this season. Add in the sublimely talented midfielder Marek Hamsik (who has 6 goals himself), and the pizza capital of the world looks to have a team that has come of age.
Palermo’s rise can be attributed to the wonderful play of Javier Pastore, who is perhaps the most sought after young player in Serie A. Rumours are awash that both Barcleona and Real Madrid are very interested in the young Argentine (with a price tag rumoured to be around 70 million euros), who has scored seven goals already this season and is being hailed as the next world superstar.
One thing is for certain; no matter where Napoli and Palermo finish this season, they have once again restored the pride of southern Italian football.