Not even during the era of Diego Maradona did the Scudetto-winning city have one player, let alone three, nominated for the Ballon d’Or.
Following a history-making season together, Victor Osimhen, Kim Min-jae and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia have driven the Neapolitan flag firmly into the ground – every victory one small step for Napoli, one giant leap for Serie A.
The trio were recognized by France Football for outstanding quality throughout the 2022-23 season, helping Napoli to a club-record UEFA Champions League (UCL) quarterfinal appearance, and securing its first Serie A title for more than three decades. Luciano Spalletti’s immortals overcame Liverpool, Ajax and Rangers in the UCL group stage and sent Eintracht Frankfurt packing 5-0 in the knockouts. On the home front Napoli dominated Serie A, finishing 16 league points ahead of second-placed Lazio, undefeated in 34 of 38 matches.
With the Azzurri considered by many as the best team in Europe until March, and with many individual accolades accumulated, it’s no surprise to see all three selected amongst the world’s top 30 footballers. Translated into English as The Golden Ball Award, the Ballon d’or is the world’s most famous football award for individuals.
Dubbed “The Georgian Messi” before he was signed from Dinamo Batumi, many laughed off the preceding reputation of Napoli’s €10M ($10.7M) signing as hyperbolic, yet it took just one week for the Italian media to jump onto the “Kvaradona” bandwagon (in homage to Maradona). Kvaratskhelia’s impact on calcio was immense, marked with the Serie A Player of the Month award for August and backed up twice more in February and March. With 34 goal contributions (16 goals, 18 assists) in 48 matches, conquering the league’s MVP award was a formality.
“Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s impact on the league has been impressive,” Serie A CEO Luigi De Siervo explained. “Congratulations to Napoli for bringing this talent to Italy, who from the very first matches showed off his repertoire of technique, dribbling, personality and creativity.”.
FootballFrance.fr also elaborated on the rise of the silky forward, “The revelation that no one saw coming. Little known, arriving from Georgia, Kvaratskhelia broke everything, whether it was prejudices or opposing defences. Swirling, unpredictable, astonishingly technical, he made his mark on Serie A and on the continent.”.
Kvaratskhelia also left his mark at international level, adding five UEFA Nations League goals to his Georgia portfolio in 2022. It may be the left winger’s first nomination, however at 22 years of age, expect to see his name reappear in the coming years.
For many, this is the season where the South Korean announced himself to Europe’s top five Leagues with 52 world-class displays. With defense being one of calcio’s most important tenets, the 26-year-old marshalled the backline in a way not seen since the days of Fabio Cannavaro, Italy’s last recipient of the Ballon d’Or. As payback for a job well done, Cannavaro came good with his pledge of completing a 158-mile ride in honour of Napoli’s third Serie A title.
Named as the Serie A Defender of the Season, Neapolitans’ tears of anguish at Kalidou Koulibaly’s departure were soon tears of joy as Min-jae helped Alex Meret to 16 clean sheets. Quickly winning the reputation as the world’s best defender, he worked tirelessly alongside Amir Rrahmani and Giovanni Di Lorenzo, conceding a league-record low of 28 goals.
Impervious to the pressures of Italian football, Min-jae joined Harry Kane in the hunt for Champions League glory at Bayern Munich, the German giants paying out his €50M ($53.6M) release clause in July. As one of three defenders named by France Football, Min-jae is the only Asian representative in 2023, succeeding fellow Korean international Son Heung-min who finished 11th last season. However, winning a Ballon d’Or as a defender is a task not even Paolo Maldini could achieve despite 13 nominations and two podium finishes.
Osimhen is considered a dark horse for the Ballon d’Or podium. Even after missing a sizeable chunk of the season with injury, the strapping Nigerian put away 33 goals, seven of them in Europe’s elite competition. Adjudged the Best Striker of 2022-23 by Lega Serie A, Humble Victor further amplified his status as one of the most crucial components of the league’s appeal to foreign markets. With ambitions of winning two consecutive titles, Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis rejected offers of over €140M ($154M) from Al Hilal.
France Football opened up on Osimhen’s inclusion, “He became the first African player to finish top scorer in a Serie A campaign, he propelled Napoli into the continent’s top 8 for the first time and he greatly contributed to bringing back the Scudetto, expected since 1990.”.
Until now, only six Azzurri players have earned Golden Ball nominations throughout 66 previous editions, from Ruud Kroll in 1980 to Kalidou Koulibaly in 2019.
The Maradona era may have brought two titles, yet many believe Spalletti’s squad was more emphatic. Last season, Napoli occupied the top spot for 36 of 38 match days, accomplishing an 11-match winning run and a positive goal difference of 49. Despite the inclusions of Osimhen, Kvaratskhelia and Min-jae, there were other standout performers also worthy of selection; versatile midfielder Piotr Zielinski, Slovakian pivot Stanislav Lobotka, and Il Capitano Giovanni Di Lorenzo.
Along with three nominees from the Inter squad that reached the Champions League final, Napoli’s brilliant triumvirate will know more on October 30th when the Ballon d’Or ceremony takes place at in Paris.