With Rafael Benitez on the verge of joining Napoli, Alex Mott looks at the burning issue the Spaniard will have to resolve.
It’s been a week of rumour, counter-rumour, tease and conjecture. When Walter Mazzarri announced he would be leaving Napoli following their final game of the season, the Press had been in overdrive speculating on who would replace the 51-year-old.
First it was Rafael Benitez, then Roberto Mancini, Roberto Martinez or Roberto Di Matteo. On Friday afternoon at around 4.30pm, the movie mogul revealed that the interim Chelsea Coach would lead the Partenopei next term. "Benitez is the new Coach of Napoli,” he told reporters. “I gave myself a birthday present. I'll make it official in the next few days as he has to end his time at Chelsea, but he'll be our new Coach for the next two years."
However, just hours later the Stadio San Paolo side’s chief admitted he’d been somewhat hasty. “I have closed a deal for a new Coach,” he claimed. “But I cannot officially announce it until he is released from the club he is currently contracted with. I cannot tell you who it is because of UEFA regulations. As soon as the club release him, I will announce it.”
Whatever the mixed messages mean, it seems almost inevitable that the former Inter man will be sitting on the bench in Naples next year. And, depending on who you ask, that could either be a cause for celebration or commiseration.
The Madrid-born tactician is considered one of the most divisive in the game. His time at Valencia was an unmitigated success, breaking the Liga duopoly and winning the UEFA Cup in 2004. Liverpool were next, and another European trophy – this time the Champions League – cemented his place as one of the most in-demand Coaches on the continent.
But an ill-fated 25 games at the Nerazzurri sullied his reputation and saw him out of work until Chelsea made him interim manager following Di Matteo’s sacking in December.
Bolshie, confrontational and temperamental – Benitez certainly has an abrasive streak which can put certain fans’ noses out of joint. There’s no doubting his tactical acumen, though. In the big games, and especially on European nights, the 53-year-old has the habit of getting it right. Nine major trophies in 12 years is a record that even the very best would envy. Rafa wins you silverware – and that’s a fact.
One burning issue casting a shadow over the whole appointment is Edinson Cavani. With 29 League goals this term, it’s probably fair to say that the Uruguayan forward has almost single-handedly guided the Partenopei to their second-place finish.
Rumbling in the background however, is the persistent rumour that the striker will leave Naples in the summer for pastures new. His father admitted recently that “if Edinson does leave Italy, then I think his future will be in Spain,” and the links with Real Madrid just keep on getting stronger and stronger.
It’s likely Benitez will need to prepare for life without his star man and how he does that could mark his reign as either a failure or a success – right from day one.