If Napoli fans were worried by the departure of Walter Mazzarri back in May, at the end of last season, then they should be salivating now at the prospect of what Rafa Benitez is bringing to Naples.
The former Liverpool coach was brought in to build on the work of Mazzarri, who has done a superb job in establishing Napoli in Italy’s elite again. Indeed he set a huge task for his successor after achieving the club’s best league finish since the days of Diego Maradona as they came second last time out.
Indeed no one has quite strengthened the way Napoli have. AC Milan and Inter Milan remain subdued in the transfer market, neither making any big signings this summer. Juventus, the champions, may have been expected to make a splash, but they have instead spent conservatively, bringing in Fernando Llorente on a free transfer and a cut price Carlos Tevez, along with Angelo Ogbonna. In fact, Juventus pulled out of the race to sign Gonzalo Higuain as they could not compete with what Arsenal were offering Real Madrid for the player. And then Napoli went and signed Higuain as Arsenal did not want to stump up the sum the Neapolitans were prepared to pay.
All in all, they’ve had the heftiest of all transfer budgets in Serie A this summer. In addition to €50 million already set aside by eccentric owner Aurelio di Laurentiis, the sale of Edinson Cavani to Paris St Germain brought in another €55 million, which was pledged for reinvestment in the transfer market. Whilst the rest of Serie A struggles financially, Napoli are taking advantage and splashing their cash around.
Higuain is the biggest name arrival so far at the San Paolo, and he is a great replacement for Cavani. Maybe not the same calibre of player, but equally as good a goalscorer, and an intelligent, hard working and hungry player who can be relied upon. He can link up well with Goran Pandev and Marek Hamsik. The arrivals of Jose Callejon from Real Madrid, a prodigious young striker, Dries Mertens from PSV and Udinese’s Pablo Armero give them new options going forward.
In defence there have been reinforcements too. Pepe Reina came in from Liverpool, to be the first choice whilst Rafael Cabral adapts following his move from Santos. Raul Albiol is another who has come from Real Madrid, to replace Hugo Campagnaro, who followed Mazzarri to Inter Milan.
Napoli fans already love Benitez it seems, and he will be relishing the chance to spend big money after several years. The Spaniard is rehabilitating his reputation and is symbolic of di Laurentiis’ approach – investing in the best available talent on the market at a moment when Napoli are most attractive to big names in Europe. This opportunistic and timely investment could well take Napoli to the next level.