For Napoli, there is no comparison between Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona.
Messi will finally play in the stadium where fellow Argentina great Maradona achieved some of his most memorable exploits. He and Barcelona will face Napoli at the San Paolo Stadium in the Champions League round of 16 on Tuesday.
“At the moment Messi is the strongest player in the world,” Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne said. “But comparisons don’t exist for us, because for us Neapolitans, Maradona is sacred. Taking nothing away from Messi, who remains a really great champion.”
After leaving Barcelona, Maradona led Napoli to its only two Italian league titles, in 1987 and 1990. He also helped the club win the 1989 UEFA Cup.
Messi and Barcelona have never played against Napoli, and the 32-year-old Argentina star said recently he is excited to finally make it to San Paolo Stadium.
“I have wanted to go to that stadium for a long time, but we have never had the chance,” Messi said. “Finally, the moment has come and I’m very excited to see what it’s like, even if it’s different now.
“The experience of playing there will be very nice. People are very passionate there and they dreamed that if Maradona came there, why can’t Messi come? Yes, I know the Neapolitans are crazy about football. I had teammates that played there ... (they) told me that they live for this and I’m very excited about going there.”
Both teams changed their coaches after the group stage, with Gennaro Gattuso replacing Carlo Ancelotti at Napoli in December and Quique Setién taking over from Ernesto Valverde in January.
Both will be debuting in the Champions League as a coach.
Gattuso won the tournament twice as a player with Milan. His Rossoneri team came up against Messi’s Barcelona eight times — although they never faced each other because either him or Messi were always absent.
“What Messi does is something I only see on the PlayStation when I play with my son,” Gattuso said. “He’s a champion, who has statistics that will never be repeated and who is also an example for kids for the way he’s conducted his career.
“He’s been doing unimaginable things for years, the only difference is that today he has a beard, but he remains the best in the world.”