Much of Rafael Benitez’s two seasons in charge of Italian club Napoli has resembled his time at Liverpool.
The Spaniard won silverware in the form of the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa Italiana. However, many will remember his time at the Stadio San Paolo for delivering very little despite having a squad that could have won the club’s first Scudetto since the days of Diego Maradona.
Benitez is expected to leave at the completion of the season when his contract expires. Although Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis has expressed a desire to keep the former Chelsea manager. Benitez has been linked with a move to England’s West Ham and a return to Liverpool.
Under Benitez, Napoli have shown flashes of brilliance, but more times than not they have been boring and predictable. This despite having some of Serie A’s most exciting players in Marek Hamsik, Gonzalo Higuain, Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens.
These players have all found themselves on the bench now and again as Benitez has rotated his squad. Hamsik and Mertens were not included in the starting XI in Napoli’s crunch Europa League semi-final second-leg against Dnipro. Both did come on in the second half, but a stale Napoli went out of the competition with a whimper. Why club captain Hamsik sat from the start is anyone’s guess.
Although Napoli were eliminated from the Europa League, cup competitions are Benitez’s forte; and a look at his CV shows that five of the ten cups secured by the Spaniard have come from cup tournaments.
In addition, five more trophies have been won in the form of super cup fixtures – UEFA Super Cup, Supercoppa Italiana.
Missing from Benitez’s CV over the past decade are league title wins. The last time Benitez accomplished that feat was while in charge of Valencia in 2004.
This season Napoli have already lost nine times which is three more losses than in either of the previous two seasons. Of course, Napoli did play on three fronts for much of the year in Serie A, Coppa Italia and Europa League, but a team at the level of Napoli cannot be using this as an excuse for failures.
The club’s extended Europa League run, while excellent, did come on the back of defeat. Napoli had qualified for the Champions League play-off round, but were eliminated quite easily by Spain’s Athletic Bilbao, forcing them into the Europa League.
Currently three points behind third place Lazio, winning the Europa League may have been Napoli’s best chance at Champions League soccer next season.
Benitez’s success in cup competitions does bode well for teams such as West Ham. Yet, if Liverpool hope to shake off a poor season provided by Brendan Rodgers, they should steer clear of returning down the familiar Benitez road.
Next to his coaching contemporaries, Benitez’s overall record does looking exemplary. The tactician possesses a 53.9% winning success rate. Looking at the managers from the current top three in the English Premier League, Benitez sits behind both Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho and Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger in career winning success rate. Manchester City’s Manual Pellegrini sits two points below Benitez.
In Serie A, despite Napoli’s current fourth place, Benitez does have the second best career winning success rate. Only Inter Milan’s Roberto Mancini’s 54.8% is better. Massmiliano Allegri, coach of Serie A champions Juventus, sits just below 50%.
The two trophies that Napoli president De Laurentiis wanted most, the Scudetto and Champions League, were unattainable in the end. Napoli’s window looks to have shut momentarily for the club and the team’s stars have attracted attention elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Sampdoria coach Sinisa Mihajlovic, the man expected to assume the Napoli coaching position, is rumoured to have several of his Blucerchiati players in tow, if appointed.
The club can take solace in two trophies won under Benitez. But with a team that never truly challenge Juventus for the title, it will be a coaching reign Napoli supporters will look back on and wonder what could have been.
Follow Drew Farmer on Twitter @Calciofarmer. Drew Farmer is a Manchester, England-based journalist/blogger that has written for Forza Italian Football and World Soccer Talk. Originally from southwest Missouri, Drew covers Italy’s Serie A, the English football and the USA’s Major League Soccer.
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