It wasn’t theatre, it was football: Antonio Juliano and his azure story

The football world is mourning the loss of Antonio Juliano, the ex-midfielder and director of Napoli, who has died at the age of 80. Juliano was a key figure in the history of the club, acting both as a long-serving player and respected director, contributing to Naples’ happiness on and off the field.

Paolo Cannavaro expressed admiration for Juliano, appreciating how significant it is to be Napoli’s captain. This sentiment perfectly encapsulates the impression that Juliano left on the club. His playing style was described by his former teammate, Dino Zoff, as one of strength and authenticity with a leader’s temperament. Zoff celebrated Juliano’s straightforward approach to football, which lacked theatricality, calling him an “atypical Neapolitan” due to his stark contrast with the stereotypical flashy player persona.

Juliano earned his call-up from Coach Ferruccio Valcareggi and played in the first leg of the 1968 European Championship final against Yugoslavia which ended in a 1-1 draw. While he was benched for the rematch, he still managed to congratulate his teammates for their performance, remarking: “Everybody played well, but it’s better to be on the pitch rather than watching.” In a post-match interview with Nando Martellini, a reporter from Rai, Juliano commented on the difficulty of being subbed on when the contest’s outcome had already been decided.

He was also part of the Italian squad in Mexico. Anticipating the heartbreak of missing out on the subsequent World Cup, despite deserving a call-up, Juliano’s last international game ironically bore witness to the rise of Dutch football.

In the 1974-75 season, Juliano and Napoli came close to winning the Scudetto (Italian Championship), but they were foiled by a 2-1 defeat to Torino. The deciding goal by his former teammate José Altafini was a tough pill to swallow. Reflecting on this time, Napoli’s president, Corrado Ferlaino, amusingly noted that “as a player, he asked for a lot of money, as a director he learned to save.”

Years later, Juliano played an instrumental role in bringing football legend Diego Maradona to Napoli in 1984, a testament to his capabilities as a club director. Ruud Krol, a high-profile Dutch player, was also directly recruited by Juliano. Krol narrated why he chose to play for Napoli, saying: “One day, Toto Juliano, Napoli’s director, comes to me and says ‘Now you can come to us, I won’t leave without you.’ So, he speaks to the president of Vancouver and the next day he brings me to Napoli.”

Director Paolo Sorrentino, speaking to Gazzetta dello Sport, credited Juliano for fuelling his passion for football. He recalled: “The first match of my life I saw with my father and Juliano was playing.” Such memories underscore the impact Antonio Juliano’s career had, not only on Napoli but on Italian football as a whole.

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