Benitez and Napoli must knuckle down to make relationship work
Something is afoot at the Stadio San Paolo, as Napoli (7/4 second favourites with Coral to lift the Europa League) prepare for perhaps their most important match of the season following what proved to be a turbulent matchweek 35 in Serie A.
Now three points adrift of third spot Lazio, the southern Italian side need to notch an away goal in Ukraine against Dnipro to ensure safe passage to the Europa League final, which, as it stands, could be their only route into the Champions League next term.
All appears not to be rosy as Rafa Benitez, whose current contract expires this summer, is yet to sign an extension with the Neapolitan outfit, with doubts arising earlier this campaign about whether controversial chairman Aurelio De Laurentiis saw the Spaniard as the right fit for Napoli’s future.
Now, the tables have turned, however, as it seems it is boss Benitez who is dragging his heels over a new deal, according to De Laurentiis.
The Napoli big-wig told press recently that: “I told him, “You can stay one more year or five more years, if you’re able to convince your family.”
Rumours continue to persist, though, that Benitez is being lined up by various clubs for a Premier League return, with Manchester City and West Ham United mooted moves, while De Laurentiis is being repeatedly linked with trying to lure Sampdoria coach Sinisa Mihajlovic.
Frustrations at the Campania club boiled over last time out in a surprise loss to relegation fodder Parma, as goal machine Gonzalo Higuain was fined for insulting an opposition player, and Benitez received a one match ban for apparently cursing Italian football.
The heightened emotions reflect Napoli’s slump in form, particularly against teams they are expected to defeat with ease, as the strength and expense of their squad demands a Champions League stage.
Benitez should, of course, shoulder the lion’s share of the blame for Napoli’s inconsistency, yet the intrusion and influence of De Laurentiis, who notably confined the squad to a training camp, has not helped either.
The Spanish tactician stands accused of tinkering and needless rotation, and of being solely a cup specialist, yet it would be a bad move for both club and coach to part just two terms into their partnership.
Having pawned Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani to PSG in successive seasons, the Serie A side had cash to splash, and now boast a much stronger squad. However, without a big-name coach such as Benitez, could the club have attracted the likes of Gonzalo Higuain?
Whether the excellent Argentine, plus impressive peers such as fellow forward threats Manolo Gabbiadini, Jose Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne, plus skipper Marek Hamsik and Spain centre back Raul Albiol would stay without the promise of the Champions League remains to be seen, and the buck does stop with Benitez for that.
Watch a Higuain goalfest here:
Napoli had their chance in Europe’s premier competition and blew it with a loss away to Athletic Bilbao but, regardless of results this season, both Benitez and De Laurentiis should make another tilt for continental triumph together, and take a shot at challenging Juve’s Scudetto domination.
The Campania side are unlikely to recruit a coach with the record, experience or silverware haul to match Benitez, whose plus points such as the cup specialist tag should not be overlooked for regular also-rans such as Napoli, who have already claimed a Coppa Italia crown during his tenure.
As for Benitez, City speculation aside, the tactician will also face a tough task to find a suitable match with the resources, passionate fanbase and impressive player roster that the San Paolo side can offer.
The grass is always greener, but Napoli (odds-on at 1/2 to qualify for the Europa League final) and their coach should both take a long hard look at the current climate, and think carefully before bidding goodbye, as with the talent at their disposal, there is every chance of success.