Tonight, Diego Armando returns to San Paolo. Except this time it’s not Maradona, but Contento, the Bayern Munich left-back born to Neapolitan parents who emigrated to Germany and named their son in honor of the greatest player ever to wear the colors of Napoli, their hometown club.
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"My wife and I chose to give our first two children Vincenzo and Domenico the names of our parents," Pasquale Contento told Il Mattino. "For the third we wanted a suggestive name but at the same time one that was rich in affection, and from there the decision was made to call him Diego Armando like our idol Maradona."
Diego Contento, center, and Bayern Munich teammates during an August 5, 2011 training session. (AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOF STACHE / Getty Images)
In writing that name on their son’s birth certificate, an act followed by many others from Naples, the Contento family testified to the enduring love one city and one club has for a player that transcended all others; not only by the unprecedented success he brought Napoli on the pitch (with two Scudetti, a Coppa Italia and a UEFA Cup), but above all for the recognition and the sense of worth he gave to a region off it too.
Of the six tattoos Contento junior has inked on his body, two pay homage to Maradona. They are a slogan – ‘Mano de Dios’ – and the predictable but no less significant number 10. What’s clear is that Maradona greatly defines Contento as a Neapolitan. Simply by way of association, he completes someone’s connection with the roots of their family in and around Naples. Say what you like, that’s immensely powerful even for those who like to reduce football to a game and nothing more.
"I have always dreamt of playing at San Paolo. What history. I would give everything to be there," Contento told La Gazzetta dello Sport on Monday. Whether he will get the chance to test himself against his hero Ezequiel Lavezzi, the player whose Napoli shirt still hangs on his bedroom wall, remains to be seen.
What space Contento had carved out for himself in Bayern’s starting XI under Louis van Gaal, which included a place in the squad for the 2010 Champions League final, has diminished since the arrival of new coach Jupp Heynckes. The signing of Rafinha in the summer has solved the team’s problem at right-back allowing Philip Lahm to finally reprise his preferred position on the opposite side of the pitch.
Unless Bayern’s captain suffers a last minute injury, Contento will be on the bench again this evening. "I need to play," he said. "I told the club without creating any conflicts. They won’t let me leave, saying that I must be patient." At the age of 21, he has time on his side. Lazio and Napoli have reportedly lodged offers in the past and now there is talk of interest from Juventus.
A return to Italy does appear likely one day in the future. Contento has represented Germany’s Under-21s, but after being left on the bench in September, he is bitter and has intimated he won’t represent them again. "My heart says Italy," Contento revealed. For now though he will have to savor his visit to San Paolo and the prospect of stepping out on to the pitch where his namesake crafted his legend.
The ground yet again promises a great atmosphere. Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis claims it is sold out, with 62,000 fans expected in attendance and the club’s gate receipts record, established on March 3, 1989 when a Maradona penalty and a goal from Careca sealed a 2-1 win over Stuttgart in the first leg of the UEFA Cup final, is in danger of being broken.
Lest we forget, Napoli came across Bayern on the road to that famous final. Heynckes, as fate would have it, was then in his first stint in charge of the club. After losing 2-0 at San Paolo, a 2-2 draw at the Olympiastadion meant Bayern were eliminated. The question now is whether Napoli can repeat the trick and inflict another defeat on their German visitors? If they do, one thing’s for sure – the fan inside Contento will certainly have to celebrate quietly.