Rafael Benitez is set to look for a fresh challenge next season after leaving his successful spell at Chelsea, and the Spanish manager should look no further than Napoli if it transpires the Serie A side are interested in hiring him.
The Italian league runners-up will be looking for a new boss after Walter Mazzarri left upon the expiration of his contract, saying he wanted a new challenge (as per FIFA.com):
The moment has come for me to reflect. Napoli is a marvellous place but I am leaving after four years because the players need some new stimulation. I took this decision some time ago. Out of respect, though, I wanted the players to be able to give their all right to the end, which they did.
I've taken Napoli as far as I can and I've put all my strength into this team and I think I have fulfilled the mandate in the right way, I think it's time to go and sit still for a few months or even try a new challenge. It depends on the offers. Naples has a precious treasure and a solid club which is very healthy, and I think they will have a bright future.
Benitez meanwhile led Chelsea to a third-place finish and the UEFA Europa League trophy after just five months in the job after replacing sacked Roberto Di Matteo, boosting his reputation as a top manager on the continent who can deliver the goods on a regular basis.
The Express have already linked Rafa with a move to Italy to take charge of Napoli, and there are many reasons why the two seem potentially an ideal fit.
Unfinished Business in Serie A?
In 2010 Benitez left his job at Liverpool and immediately took over at Serie A side Inter Milan.
Having enjoyed considerable success in Spain and England, adding trophies while in Italy would have given the manager an enviable record in three of the toughest championships on the continent—but although he won the World Club Cup and the European Super Cup, his time at Inter is considered a failure.
Benitez was sacked after barely six months in the job and cited a lack of investment in players after selling too many as a reason why he had been unable to keep the success of the previous year (when Inter won the treble) going.
Whether now with Napoli or in the future with another club, Rafael Benitez will not want this unsatisfactory spell in Italy to be the sole achievement of his time in that country. Napoli could well offer him the chance to change that record.
Solid Team, European Prospects, Potential Funds
Having finished second in Serie A this season, there can be no arguments that Napoli do not possess a very capable team.
The likes of Edinson Cavani, Hugo Campagnaro and Marek Hamsik have enjoyed another good season and the side have automatically qualified for the group stages of next season's UEFA Champions League, a competition that Benitez has won once and reached the semifinals of on multiple occasions.
It may be that Napoli need to sell on one or two of their players this season, by their own choice or the players', but with the likes of Cavani linked with moves for up to £52 million by Mirror Football, the incoming manager should have plenty of room to manoeuvre in the transfer market. More depth will be required for next term to compete in the Champions League, but Benitez is adept at gelling teams and getting a good tactical balance in his sides.
Benitez has also traditionally worked with a preferred attacking central midfield player as the focal point to build his side around—Pablo Aimar, Steven Gerrard, Wesley Sneijder, Juan Mata—and Hamsik could provide exactly that kind of starting point for him.
Rafa Wants a "Project"
With regards to his next challenge, Benitez has already stated his aims; either to be managing a club with money to spend to aim for immediate trophy success, or else to find a project where he can build a team over a period of time (via Guardian).
Having risen to second in the league under Mazzarri, Napoli might be expecting a new boss to come in and help them take the final steps to challenge Juventus for the league title. A more realistic outlook though, would be to aim for a season of consolidation in the top three, guaranteeing Champions League football beyond this season.
AC Milan, Fiorentina and perhaps Roma and Inter can all be reasonably expected to improve over the summer, while Juve remain far and away the best club in the league, so even maintaining a top-three place will be a tough task.
If Benitez is given the security of having even a couple of seasons to show he can stabilise the success of the team before helping to grow further in his own image thereafter, Napoli could reap the benefits for years to come.
On the other hand, his managerial trophy record of 10 pieces of silverware in the last 11 years—and he was out of work for two of those years between Inter and Chelsea—point to perhaps Napoli being able to see tangible success rather quicker.