There’s still one more game remaining in the 2014-15 Serie A season – and for Napoli, it’s a significant one. Rafa Benítez could still lead the side into third place and a Champions League playoff berth, but the Spaniard won’t be the one at the helm next season.
During a press conference on Thursday, Benítez announced what had long been expected: after two years in charge of the partenopei, he’s off. The manager said, “My family was key to me making this choice,” but what everyone is anticipating, of course, is that an offer from Real Madrid is in the works.
It’s strange to contemplate, really. Rafa seems to have perfected the knack of actively getting worse with each job he takes on, yet he keeps managing to snag big offers. Real Madrid is, of course, the biggest yet.
Sure, the Spanish giant didn’t win La Liga this season, nor did it lift the Champions League trophy for the second consecutive time. But this is the richest club in the world, a team looking to land multiple pieces of silverware, season after season.
And this club has just brought on a man whose biggest accomplishment in the last two years was to win the Coppa Italia. Benítez couldn’t get his team past the group stage of the Champions League last season, and couldn’t manage to get it to qualify for the tournament this time around. Napoli didn’t manage a serious title challenge in 2013-14, and this season, has struggled to stay within reach of the top three. Rafa gambled on winning the Europa League, and lost out in the semifinals.
So what we have, for a team that fancies itself the best in the world, is a manager unable to demonstrate progress with his most recent side. Or, indeed, progress on the whole. With Chelsea, Rafa hoisted the Europa trophy, but few consider his interim appointment in London a success. His time at Inter has been deemed an abject failure. Really, you have to go back to the days of Liverpool, and that 2005 Champions League trophy, to find real success.
It’ll also be interesting to see how Rafa gets along with Florentino Pérez, the man responsible for so many of Real Madrid’s shiny sparkly players. This is a manager who loves his defensive midfielders, after all, while Perez appears to believe that any player incapable of selling millions of shirts is not worth the trouble. Will Benítez be doomed before he even begins?
Rafa has yet to be anointed king of Real, of course. But when it happens, the supporters just might find themselves longing for the days when how to boo Gareth Bale was their biggest concern.