Ex-Napoli chief signed Dries Mertens, Raul Albiol, Jose Callejon, Pepe Reina, Kalidou Koulibaly and Jorginho for around £50m at the Stadio San Paolo
RAFA BENITEZ’S legacy lives on at Napoli.
Benitez did not break the bank to bring in Dries Mertens, Raul Albiol, Jose Callejon, Pepe Reina, Kalidou Koulibaly and Jorginho during his two-year spell at Stadio San Paolo.
Crucially, he did not ask to, either.
All in, they cost Napoli around £50million as Benitez built a squad to compete with Milan, Inter and Juventus in Serie A, as well as some of the top clubs in Europe.
Two years on from his departure, all six were starters for Napoli in their commanding 2-0 Champions League win over Nice on Tuesday night.
They mastered the two-legged qualifier, winning 4-0 on aggregate, to send a fairly strong message to the rest of Europe.
Napoli clearly mean business at the elite level.
Benitez, struggling to convince Mike Ashley to give him a fighting chance of keeping Newcastle in the Premier League, must be longing for those giddy days.
He left Naples with one of European football’s most dangerous teams. Even in the sport’s fast-moving world, the Napoli officials who travelled to Nice for the second leg have not forgotten the work Benitez put in to turn them into a major player again.
The Spaniard took Napoli to third and fifth-place finishes in Serie A, along with wins in the Super Cup and Coppa Italia.
Benitez never did get the chance to finish the job, leaving Italy when the dream of coaching Real Madrid turned into reality.
Those glorious days, when Benitez was coaching and managing at the highest level, are disappearing.
He is in a different fight now. One is with Ashley, Newcastle’s belligerent owner, after he failed to come up with the money to build Benitez a strong, progressive Toon side.
Benitez can be a tricky customer, no question about that, but he deserves better from Newcastle.
He stayed at St James’ Park when they were relegated two years ago, fulfilling his immediate brief by taking them straight back up.
All that momentum, the hysteria around the place following promotion back to the Premier League, has already been lost.
The storm clouds have gathered again following back-to-back league defeats by Tottenham and Huddersfield.
Their third defeat in a row, after Nottingham Forest’s extra-time winner at St James’ Park on Wednesday, increased the gloom around the place.
Tomorrow’s home game with fellow strugglers West Ham is critical.
Benitez knows the strength of the Premier League, the profile of the players needed to keep Newcastle in the top flight.
He knew, long before they were beaten by Spurs and Huddersfield, that his current squad is not good enough to stay in it.
It is a battle of wills now, with Benitez playing to the gallery on the Gallowgate as the hours count down towards Thursday’s transfer deadline.
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He is desperate to build a team, to bring in the players who can be the start of something special again on Tyneside.
It is Ashley’s call now, with the pressure building on Newcastle’s owner to come up with the cash to make them great again.
If he needs some inspiration, he only has to look at Napoli.
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