Rafa Benítez in MARCA

Napoli’s Head Coach speaks to Marca during preseason in Dimaro


Even though under his tenure Chelsea scored 99 goals in just 6 months and Napoli scored 104 in his first season in charge some people still consider Rafa Benítez as a defensive coach. In Italy instead, he is regarded as the most offensive coach of the Serie A. Rafa Benítez has taken the lead from Diego Armando Maradona's time in Napoli with the azzurri fans putting all their faith in Don Rafé believing that he will be the one to bring he Scudetto back. Something that hasn't happened since 1989-90. Imagen

As Cup winners and third position in the league after breaking both the club points record (78) and goals scored (104), how do you rate your first season at Napoli?

If we make a global analysis I think it has been a very positive season. We have to add the 12 points achieved in the Champions League group stage, it is the first time that a team doesn't go through with 12 points. We always want more but realistically winning a title in our first year in a championship as demanding as the Italian is very difficult.

What were your thoughts after being eliminated from the Champions League with 12 points?

"There is nothing we can do to change it, but I do remember an own goal that we conceded in the first home game against Borussia Dortmund, that was decisive".

What is the challenge for next season?

"We scored 104 goals in all competitions…but we conceded 39. If we really want to be at the top we need to improve defensively and at the same time keep our pace in attack".

What is the secret of Napoli’s change of mentality?

"Mazzarri had some very good seasons in Napoli. His team were very dangerous at counter attack. We tend to have more ball possession and control the games. I think that the fans are enjoying this because of the number of goals scored. The change of style involves being much more offensive and trying to be the protagonist".

Napoli is a team conscious of its own position in comparison to other teams, what do they need to do to take things to the next level?

"It is difficult, we just have to look at our rivals' budget. Napoli has had a positive financial balance at the end of the year for the last 10 years. Trying to achieve a balance between income and outcome without dropping the level is not easy. We have to try to do things really well and not commit errors so that you don't notice the economic differences on the pitch".

Let's talk about what we don't see. What changes has Rafa Benítez made at club level?

"When we arrived the facilities were quite limited. Little by little they have been significantly improving them: the offices, the dressing rooms, the restaurant, the training pitches..."

How is this Napoli 2.0?

"The team is still growing. We are missing many international players and although we are already beginning to see progress, there is still great margin for improvement".

Are you ready to fight for the 'Scudetto'?

"When put like that, yes. We are good enough to compete against anyone. We respect everyone but at the same we are not afraid. The difference between winning the Cup and the League is that you have to maintain a good level throughout many months and here we go back to the budget, the squads, the history.....we have managed to go cutting down the gap between us and Roma, Juventus, Milan, Inter, Fiorentina. The team has become more competitive and as time goes by we are more capable of beating these opponents. Now we need to prove it but like I always say we need to aspire to everything".

Has Antonio Conte's departure closed the gap between Napoli and Juventus?

"Conte is not there but Allegri is. He is a Coach with experience which still makes Juventus the strongest team. Roma has made some good reinforcements, they are an extremely strong team and Inter will be a very difficult team, Milan will always be Milan....The competition will be fierce, like every year".

What is harder, winning the Champions League with Liverpool, two leagues with Valencia or the league with Napoli?

"The latter is the most difficult because we have already achieved the other two [smiles]. They are different situations. Valencia was a good team, with a great institution behind it but they needed to make the next step forward. Liverpool the same, a historic club, with great structure and the backing of many fans. Here it is different, Napoli has not had that continuity of winning titles since Maradona's time".

What is left to complete the squad?

"We have signed Andujar, Koulibaly and Michu. Now we have to wait and see how the market progresses. If we can strengthen the team in some positions we will. However it is important to keep calm and not rush in decision making".

What is expected from Michu?

"He is a very intelligent player when getting into the last third of the pitch, the most difficult area. Michu controls that timing to get there and score, furthermore he knows how to connect with his team mates. That is going to be fundamental in his play".

Are you bothered about some critics referring to you as a defensive coach?

"I don’t think many people know much about my career. When they see a team that has the right balance with a strong defence they just tend to think that it is a defensive approach to the game. The trophies won are there, besides all the figures confirm just the opposite".

On the other hand, in Italy you are considered the leading figure of offensive football. How can you explain that?

"A team that scores 104 goals cannot ever be considered as a defensive team. I remember one season in the Premier League when we were the top scoring team with 119 goals, and then we scored 99 with Chelsea in just 6 months…As I always say, we try to find a good balance. Trophies cannot be won by just scoring lots of goals or just conceding few. You need to have balance".

Is Napoli the most offensive team you have managed?

"No, all my teams always played offensive football. Liverpool were a very offensive team. I remember one week in which we beat Real Madrid 1-0 away, then beat United 4-1 away, 4-0 to Real Madrid and 5-0 to Aston Villa. It was a team with a clear attacking mentality".

Did you consider selling Higuain to Barcelona?

"There was no truth in it and we did not consider his sale at any moment. Gonzalo is a fundamental player for us. I am delighted with him. Last year he performed well and this season he has the opportunity of doing even better: he is familiar with the environment, the city, the fans, the league..."

Callejon has admitted to having received an offer from Atletico.

"It is true that there has been interest but just as I said in relation to Higuain, they are players that arrive, contribute their experience and quality and they can still grow and contribute much more. We trust in Callejon, the same with Gonzalo, Albiol and now Michu. They are fundamental for Napoli".

Last season you guessed that Callejon would score 20 goals. What is your bet for this season?

"I am going to sit this one out. I don't want to put too much pressure on him. Objectives have to be easy to reach. I was convinced that he could score between 15 and 20 goals".

What has been Albiol's contribution?

"He is a player that not many know well because in Madrid he did not play much. I knew him from my time in Valencia, he is a footballer with quality, with a good reading of the game besides he is a good team mate. With the tactical work we are doing and which he is assimilating, he will be one of the basic pillars of this team".

Are you interested in Diego Lopez?

"Many names have come out but a high percentage of them are not true. I have heard "Napoli are going to sign Diego Lopez, an agreement has been reached". We have not considered him at any moment. Nobody knew about the signings of Koulibaly, Andujar and Michu until last minute. That is the line we will follow".

Is there a chance of Pepe Reina returning?

"In principle, we don't talk about the transfer market because it would be a lack of respect to our players. During this period many things change but at the moment the goalkeepers we have are of a high level and we trust them completely".

You did recognise that there was a firm interest in Mascherano. What happened?

"Whilst looking for players with experience, character and leadership qualities, Mascherano was one of the first names we considered. When we contacted his agent he told us that he was close to renewing his contract with Barcelona and it was almost impossible. Everything was very professional and correctly carried out, nothing more".

Your Valencia won two leagues with the approach of focussing on the next game each time, this has been 'copied' by Simeone at Atletico de Madrid. Is that the best approach?

"In Valencia we used this approach but I don't think that it belongs to me nor Simeone. It is useful for teams that have short term objectives. Napoli is following the same line".

How did you experience the shootings that occurred in the Cup final?

"It was a difficult situation. We were waiting to go out onto the pitch. The subsequent news and especially the passing of Ciro were deplorable. It is important that this incident does not repeat itself. I hope everybody has learnt from this".

Real Madrid has just signed James Rodriguez. How do you see La Liga at a distance?

"Real Madrid always aspires to the highest standards and when there is a player that stands out they become their objective. I think the battle between Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, who has joined in, is going to be very interesting, let's see if Atletico can maintain the same pace as the other two".

Your name has been linked to the Spanish national team should Del Bosque leave. Can you comment on this?

"Vicente Del Bosque, as he has shown, is a really great coach. I think that there should be calm so that he can continue to carry out the great work he has been doing up to now".