With Napoli needing a waiver from UEFA to host Champions League matches at the Stadio San Paolo this season, owner Aurelio De Laurentiis says he has asked the governing body to allow him to play Champions League matches to SSC Bari’s Stadio San Nicola.
Given Bari is more than three hours from Napoli on the Italian peninsula’s opposite coast, on the surface it almost seems something of a grandstanding dare to the governing body—an effort to force UEFA to again grant an exception for Napoli’s ageing stadium.
Currently, the San Paolo isn’t up to spec for European matches, with the seating a particular sore point, and there has been a commitment from the local council that the facility will be upgraded for a number years now, with a hard deadline of this past summer.
That deadline came and passed and the San Paolo remains as it was. Further confusing matters is that UEFA claim De Laurentiis has not asked to play Napoli’s games at Bari’s stadium—though they haven’t clarified if the San Paolo has been granted a waiver.
“For me it is a nightmare,” De Laurentiis said in and interview with Corriere dello Sport. “It hurts our image at the international level to play in such a stadium. It’s a shame. For this reason, I say enough is enough—I do not want controversy so I will build my own stadium.”
Building his own stadium rather than continuing to play at the locally owned San Paolo, though, will take time—two years, at least, according to De Laurentiis. And in the meantime, where Napoli are going to play their European game does seem rather up in the air.
And while the San Nicola in Bari is less than ideal, originally Napoli had identified Palermo’s Stadio Renzo Barbera as their preferred European backup—on the island of Sicily, a short flight or ten-hour ferry ride from Naples—should a waiver not be granted.
“In the meantime, I have asked UEFA to authorise us to play Champions League matches in Bari,” De Laurentiis insisted. “I’ll even pay the cost for a thousand busses out of my own pocket so the Napoli supporters can attend our matches at the San Nicola.”
For now, though, nothing seems settled, and another UEFA exemption for the San Paolo will hopefully be granted—or, failing that, a closer alternate host site—and for their part, Liverpool have told The Liverpool Echo they expect the game to be played in Naples.