Not since Diego Maradona was delivering silverware to this Mediterranean city on a regular basis has excitement been this tangible and expectations so high at S.S.C Napoli.
On Saturday, club manager Rafael Benitez, addressing reporters in Naples ahead of Sunday’s Serie A curtain-raiser against Bologna, conceded that Juventus were Scudetto favourites as they had “won the last two.” But, he added, “favourites don’t always win.” (Football-Italia)
Smiling and quite visibly relaxed, the Spaniard cut a much different figure than the stiff, beleaguered coach that was so often forced to go on the defensive while at Chelsea last season.
“I hope this enthusiasm I feel at Napoli can continue for a long time,” he said, adding, “I am very motivated.”
He has good reason to be.
Having arrived at the San Paolo as top-scorer Edinson Cavani was about to depart for Paris Saint-Germain, Benitez found himself entrusted with a sizeable transfer kitty as club president Aurelio De Laurentiis sought to strengthen the squad following the Uruguayan’s exit.
Belgium winger Dries Mertens was the first to join ranks—enlisted at a price of €9.7 million from PSV Eindhoven in mid-June—and left-back Pablo Armero, goalkeeper Rafael Cabral, forward Jose Callejon and Raul Albiol were all added before Benitez pulled off his biggest coup of the summer, signing Gonzalo Higuain from Real Madrid.
Following the loan acquisition of goalkeeper Pepe Reina and this week’s capture of striker Duvan Zapata, Napoli’s spending surpassed €84 million—€20 million more than what the club brought in from the sale of Cavani.
Blessed with options, Benitez will go into Sunday’s match with a pleasant sort of selection conundrum.
“I don’t know yet who will start, but we have a strong side with Lorenzo Insigne, Goran Pandev, Marek Hamsik, Jose Maria Callejon and Dries Mertens all available to start behind the striker,” he said.
What he does know, is that striker will be Higuain, and on Friday, the Argentina international expressed his desire to emulate the success enjoyed at Napoli by his famous countryman.
“I don’t want to be remembered here just for scoring goals,” he said. “I want to get into the history of the club just like Maradona. My only goal is to win.” (Goal)
Napoli haven’t won the Scudetto since Maradona’s 16 goals propelled them to Serie A glory in 1990, but the feeling is they have a better chance of ending the drought this season than in most seasons past.
“We must believe in the Scudetto,” said Higuain. “We are competitive and we can dream despite the league being very difficult.”
Hamsik, who will likely operate just behind Higuain much of the season, also spoke openly of winning the league after agreeing a five-year contract earlier this month.
“We cannot promise everything, but we hope this can be the right year for Napoli to win the Scudetto,” he said. “We’ll give our all to achieve this historic objective.” (Eurosport)
Benitez believes both Milan sides, Roma and Fiorentina will join Napoli and Juventus in competing for the title this season.
“We’re all nominated, so now we’ll see in the end who gets the Oscar,” he said.