Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis is a man of the theatre. Ever since the resignation of popular manager Walter Mazzarri at the conclusion of the Serie A season last Sunday, the eccentric boss has teased the club’s faithful supporters and the media with hints about the identity of their new coach.
De Laurentiis initially revealed the tactician would be announced over the team’s social network accounts. The 49-year-old subsequently stated the new man’s name ended with an M. In the end, both of those claims turned out to be half-truths. Rafael Benitez, whose surname is Maudes, was revealed to be on the verge of appointment by Napoli, and the story did spread like wildfire on twitter before the Italian media caught wind of it.
Napoli’s representatives led by sporting director Riccardo Bigon met Benitez in London earlier this week. The Spaniard’s agent Garcia Quillon then held a meeting with the club on Wednesday in Rome to iron out the details on a two-year deal. De Laurentiis then announced his arrival on Thursday afternoon.
Benitez is expected at the outfit’s Castel Volturno training ground early next week to conclude the deal, as he officially signs off his post as interim manager of Chelsea at their United States tour. However, the challenges the former Liverpool man faced at the Blues will be similar to those in southern Italy.
Mazzarri consistently guided Napoli to Champions League success since arriving in 2009, and leaves the club following a campaign in which they comfortably sealed a place in next year’s group stages with a second place finish in the league behind Juventus. Benitez will be following in the footsteps of a coach treasured by supporters, and will have to replicate his accolades, as well as facing immediate challenges.
Convincing prized star striker Edinson Cavani to remain at the Stadio San Paolo, and fend off bids from European heavyweights, will undoubtedly be the first task on hand. The Uruguayan international has been fundamental to the team’s success in recent years, and has netted an incredible 104 goals in three seasons. Remaining one more term would mean beating Diego Maradona’s record of 118, a simply colossal feat.
The next task on the agenda will be to clear out any deadwood within the squad such as Marco Donadel, Giandomenico Mesto and perhaps even former Liverpool man Andrea Dossena. Then the rebuilding can commence in defence and midfield. De Laurentiis has admitted to talks with Manchester City for striker Edin Dzeko in which Cavani could be involved in going the other way, should he want to move.
Benitez will be eager to avoid a repeat of his last spell in Italy with Inter, which was disastrous. On this occasion the 53-year-old will not be following a figure such as Jose Mourinho, who had won everything the previous season, through the door, but will have to directly compete for the league against Juventus to ensure supporters remain content. Keeping his players on side will also be essential to push for the title.
The decision to move to Napoli can be taken as a left-field choice, but there is the potential to build a project for the long term at a financially sound club, which he may never have secured in England.