Rafael Benitez confirmed on Thursday that Napoli’s crucial game against Lazio this weekend would be his final match in charge of the Serie A outfit.
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Two years after taking charge at the Stadio San Paolo the former Valencia, Liverpool, Inter Milan and Chelsea manager will leave Napoli after securing the Italian Super Cup this season. The Partenopei know a win on Sunday in Benitez’s final game in charge will see them beat Lazio to the third and final UEFA Champions League spot via a superior head-to-head record.
Benitez, 55, was out of contract this summer and has been heavily linked with the vacant managerial position at Real Madrid following the firing of Carlo Ancelotti on Monday.
Speaking about his time at Napoli, Benitez had the following to say:
“It’s always sad to leave a place where people treat you well,” Benitez said. “It was clear that my (time) here was finished and that I needed to look for something else for the future.”
Napoli’s owner Aurelio De Laurentiis is a notoriously hard man to please and is almost as ruthless and eccentric as Real Madrid’s president Florentino Perez. That said, if Napoli win on Sunday then Benitez will have delivered back-to-back qualifications to the UCL even though his side failed to get past Athletic Bilbao in the playoff round this season after a disastrous second leg in Spain.
It is believed that one of the key reasons behind Benitez moving onto pastures new is that he’s been living away from his family for over two years. The man who won the La Liga title twice with Valencia in 2001 and 2003 and the UEFA Champions League with Liverpool in 2006 hails from Madrid and started his career with Real Madrid’s youth teams but failed to make his way through to the first team as a player. Benitez’s first coaching gig was in charge of Real’s B team from 1993-95 and it seems as though the Spaniard is heading full circle as Madrid beckons once again.
Benitez may not be the most popular choice to replace Ancelotti in the Spanish capital but he could bring discipline and structure to a Real side heavily reliant on superstar talents who blew hot and cold far too often during the 2014-15 campaign.