Napoli’s return to the higher echelons of Italian football was orchestrated by passionate boss Walter Mazzarri – so when the experienced trainer opted to leave San Paolo to join Inter last summer there were concerns in some corners over what the future held for the club.
With star players such as Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi also leaving the Naples-based club in recent times, Mazzarri’s successor had a job on his hands to maintain the standards that the side’s fans had become accustomed to.
In Rafa Benítez Napoli opted for a manager with a rich track record of success in Spain and England. However, the Spaniard’s reputation in Italy was certainly not stellar given his botched spell in charge of Inter.
However, Benítez has progressed Napoli’s cause and arguably made them a more dangerous outfit since his arrival. A solid season where Champions League qualification has been all-but assured again was capped off with Coppa Italia success yesterday.
Against an able Fiorentina side, I Partenopei dominated the game at the Stadio Olimpico, winning 3-1 to send the club’s fans into rapture.
Lorenzo Insigne was the hero with two first-half goals, while Dries Mertens netted in the dying minutes to put the final nail in the Viola’s coffin.
Napoli have now won the Coppa Italia twice in the last three years – but it will be the major tournaments that Benítez will be charged with making major assaults on next season.
On the continent, Benítez’s men were desperately unlucky to be knocked out of the Champions League in the group stages this term. Four wins from six games and 12 points was a good return in a group that included Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal, but they were edged out by the slimmest of margins.
Making it through the group stages will be the aim next term.
Despite a star-laden squad at Stadio San Paolo, club owner Aurelio De Laurentiis is expected to spend big in the summer again to improve the quality of the collective.
For Benítez, Coppa Italia success makes it eight major trophies won in an impressive manager career.
The 54-year-old also won an FA Cup in England before moving to Inter. Following in the footsteps of José Mourinho at a Nerazzurri side in transition was always going to be a tall order, but this period must be regarded as the only failure in Benítez’s sparkling managerial career.
An unpopular choice to replace Roberto Di Matteo at Chelsea, Benítez won the Stamford Bridge crowd round by the time he left the club, landing the Europa League in the process.
Despite the exceptional work that Mazzarri did in getting Napoli back to their glory days, the San Paolo faithful will be full of trust that Benítez is the man to take the club to the next level.
As per the Benítez way, the Spaniard has landed a trophy at the first time of asking.
Napoli will be a real force next season in their quest to win their first Scudetto since 1990, while most potential European opponents will have their fingers crossed to avoid the Neapolitans in the Champions League group stage.