Pietro Puzone once won the Scudetto with Napoli playing alongside Diego Maradona. Today, he lives as a homeless person in his native town of Acerra. The sad story of this former football player has been making headlines in Italy over the past few days as a video of Puzone living in dreadful conditions circulated in multiple sport media outlets.
The video, recorded by a local radio commentator, shows a man whose face bears the signs of an addiction reluctantly agreeing to receive help to clean himself up. The commentator records his promise and calls upon all Napoli fans and friends to help bring back Pietro “to the wonderful person he is.”
Pietro Puzone, now aged 57, was part of the Napoli roster which won the Italian title and the Coppa Italia in the 1986-87 season. Although not recording any cap in the campaign – he was only a back-up winger – Puzone was known for his close ties with Maradona. Old TV recordings show that, when El Pibe de Oro failed a decisive penalty, which caused Napoli’s elimination from the UEFA Cup at the hands of Toulouse, Puzone was the first one to comfort the heartbroken Argentine.
Maradona’s friendship with Pietro Puzone dated back to his first season in Napoli and is well-exemplified by an episode which achieved cult status in the Italian football underground. That’s when Puzone managed to convince him to play in an unofficial charity match in his native Acerra – a suburb of Naples.
Puzone had been approached by a family friend who was desperate to raise money for an operation that could save his son’s life. He thus proceeded to organize a charity game at the local stadium and asked Napoli president Corrado Ferlaino to involve the Partenopei squad. Permission denied: It was too risky to play on a small ground in the suburbs, with no protection and with a high risk of injury.
That’s when, according to the legend, Maradona decided to go his own way and to play regardless of his President’s veto. El Pibe de Oro presented himself in Acerra, accompanied by Puzone himself, along with many additional Napoli players wearing the official jerseys. It is rumored that Maradona even agreed to pay his insurance a 12M compensation that was required to let him play.
And so, thanks to Puzone’s drive and Maradona’s generosity, a small miracle happened on that afternoon in January 1985. On a patched-up, muddy football field in the outskirts of Naples, an international football star and future world champion played against a local amateur club, warming up among the parked cars, and not restraining himself at all, like a kid playing with mud.
10000 spectators filled the stands of the local stadium which was barely homologated to host 5000. People were crowding around the pitch and had to be restrained from invading it to hug Dieguito every time he scored. More than 20M Italian Liras were raised on the occasion, which served the purpose of paying the operation and saving the kid’s life.
Pietro Puzone’s career as a footballer, however, would never take off. After a few lackluster seasons across the Italian Peninsula, he retired from professional football in 1990, aged just 27. Life has not dealt kindly with him and we won’t be digging into the twists that have taken him to his current condition, nor will we be judging him.
His sad story is a reminder of how fleeting the shiny world of football is, and when the lights of notoriety fade down a man is a just a man – with all his weaknesses and limits.
The heartbreaking video that has been circulating across the Internet will hopefully raise awareness on his case and prompt his friends, as well as maybe some old Napoli teammates, to offer some help. Just like he did, many years ago, when he brought Maradona to play in the suburbia and helped to save a life in the process.
Good luck, Pietro.