Lionel Messi should sign for Napoli to pay the ultimate homage to Diego Maradona when he leaves Barcelona, according to his former Camp Nou teammate Kevin-Prince Boateng, who has paid his own tribute to the departed Argentina great.
Maradona passed away aged 60 on November 25, and Messi, who worked with the 1986 World Cup winner during the former’s time as Argentina head coach has already paid his respects to his idol by removing his Barca kit to reveal a Newell’s Old Boys shirt earlier this month.
However, Monza midfielder Boateng believes that Messi should pay the ultimate homage to his compatriot by signing for Maradona’s former club Napoli when contract at Barcelona ends in 2021.
“Messi’s going to finish his contract at Barcelona, [but] how amazing would it be if he would just call Napoli and say ‘I will come’?” Boateng told ESPN.
“‘They don’t give out the No. 10 shirt anymore, [but] I would love to honour Maradona’s No. 10 and I would love to come and play one year or two years at Naples, without thinking about money or nothing, just heart.'”
Maradona’s status in Naples is mythical, having won the Italian title twice during his seven-year stay at Napoli, whose San Paolo stadium has been renamed in his honour since his passing.
“It would be like a movie,” Boateng continued. “He’d have to go to practice by a f—ing helicopter because people would eat him alive they’d be so happy.
“But just that story: ‘In honour of Maradona, I will come and play for Naples,’ what kind of story would that be for the world, not only for football, for the world?
“It would be a message, it would be history everywhere. I just wish I would be in Messi’s shoes. I want to be Messi. I would call the president of Naples and I would tell him.”
Naples has united in collective recognition of Maradona following his death earlier this month, with the team wearing Argentina-inspired kits for their Serie A meeting with AS Roma, each Napoli player bearing his iconic No. 10 for the fixture, and forward Lorenzo Insigne even getting a tattoo of the club legend on his left leg.
For Boateng, Maradona’s ‘strong bond’ with the club and the city is as much about what he achieved off the pitch as on it, with the player’s attitude to life in Italy explaining why he remains so beloved in the city.
“I heard stories about him where he came out from the training ground and saw families and gave them money and said ‘everything’s going to be alright’,” Boateng recalled.
“That’s what made him so special in Naples. Of course he won the league, but he was like a person you could touch, and it’s difficult to find.
“He was always there; you saw him scoring an amazing goal, and then the next day, you could find him walking through the streets.”
Since bursting onto the scene at Barcelona in 2004, before making his Argentina debut a year later, Messi has been celebrated as the spiritual successor to Maradona, and Boateng, who played with the 33-year-old during his loan spell at Catalonia last season, believes the comparisons are not far-fetched.
“[Maradona] had too much quality, and he had that intelligence that Messi has, he was always one step ahead,” Boateng continued. “I don’t remember seeing him live, but I’ve seen all of the videos and I know everything about him.”
The Ghana international did witness Messi’s qualities up close during their time together in Catalonia, a period which made him recently claim that he felt ‘inadequate’ compared to the Barca great.
When asked about what set Messi apart from Boateng’s other teammates and opponents, the ex-AC Milan midfielder pointed to his ability to marry quickness of thought and impeccable technique.
He said: “[It’s] his mind, because he has unbelievable qualities with the ball, we see that all the time, but he’s always two or three steps ahead. All the time, that’s what makes him unbelievable.
“His mind, his intelligence, knowing where to pass, with the right pace, on the right foot.
“People don’t understand football, and how it changes the game, to play the ball with the right pace, with the right spin, on your perfect foot at the right moment.
“All those things together, and he [also] has that intelligence to understand that in a second, where to put the ball.”
Perhaps one day soon, Barcelona’s loss could prove to be Napoli’s gain.