For years, he was a rock in Napoli's defense, leading the club in a charge from Serie C all the way up to Serie A and in to the Champions League. He was Napoli's captain, Napoli's leader, Napoli's heart, and Napoli's hero.
His name is Gianluca Grava.
This weekend, he celebrated his ten-year anniversary with the club with a special pregame ceremony as Napoli acknowledged Grava's long service to the organization, which has continued even after he hung up his cleats:
4 FOTO | #Hamsik e il San Paolo hanno celebrato #Grava prima di #NapoliGenoa http://t.co/HUYTt8XT4A #10AnniDiGrava pic.twitter.com/04AjIQW5Gb— Official SSC Napoli (@sscnapoli) January 27, 2015
A simple congratulations ceremony and note of his accomplishment isn't enough for Gianluca Grava, though. No, he deserves a full recognition of everything he's done for this club, because that's what you do for players who gave your club every fiber of their being for so long.
Grava joined Napoli in January of 2005, during a dark time in the club's history. They had been dropped all the way down to Serie C after going bankrupt, and that first season didn't end well, with Napoli failing to gain promotion. The next season, though, thanks in large part to the performances of the fiery and passionate defender, Napoli won promotion to Serie B. Then Grava helped Napoli pull themselves to a second-place finish and another promotion. Then, just a few short years later, Grava and Napoli were in the upper reaches of Serie A, qualifying for the UEFA Cup (now the Europa League) and then the Champions League.
By then, Grava was sadly a pale shadow of his former self, with age and injuries sapping the energy from his legs and leaving him unable to keep up with the pace of Serie A and continental competition, and finally in 2013 Gianluca Grava hung up his boots. After playing in 148 league appearances for Napoli and another 19 in various domestic and international cups, GIanluca Grava was finally ready to rest.
Of course, that was not the end of Grava's Napoli journey. Eager to help the club however he can, Grava now serves as the Technical Director of Napoli's Primavera youth academy. He oversees the coaching and development of Napoli's young talent, and also has a hand in recruitment to the system, helping bring in promising young talents like Sebastiano Luperto. It's fitting that a man who was so heavily involved and vital to Napoli becoming the budding power that it is today is at the center of helping develop and secure the club's future.
Thank you, Gianluca Grava. Thank you for everything you've done for this club. For all the tackles crunched, balls won, smiles beamed, curses screamed. For all the clearances boomed, passes delivered, instructions shouted, encouragement given. For every moment you've spent helping Napoli become what it is, and every moment you've yet to spend on the club we love. Thank you.