Napoli coach Rafa Benitez has announced he is leaving after two years with the Serie A club amid widespread expectation he is poised to replace the sacked Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid.
Spaniard Benitez, 55, who had a stint in Real’s youth set-up in the 1990s, made the announcement at a news conference on Thursday with Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis.
As the club had made clear on Wednesday, Benitez declined to answer questions about his future, saying he had taken the decision to leave after Sunday’s final Serie A match of the campaign at home to Lazio “for family reasons”.
“I want to thank the president, the club and all the fans because after two years my experience here at Napoli is coming to an end,” Madrid-born Benitez said.
Spanish media have made the former Liverpool, Inter Milan and Chelsea coach the favourite to replace Ancelotti, who was fired by Real on Monday after a season without major silverware.
Benitez has had mixed fortunes during his stint with Napoli and if he does join Real he will be taking on one of the most challenging coaching jobs in club soccer.
Italian Ancelotti was dismissed a year after he ended 12 years of Champions League failure and led Real to a record-extending 10th European crown, as well as a King’s Cup triumph.
Napoli won the Coppa Italia last term and finished third in Serie A but have been unable to use that as a platform for greater success.
They started this campaign by losing a Champions League qualifier to Athletic Bilbao and missed out on the lucrative group stage.
Beaten in the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia and Europa League, they are fourth in Serie A and need to beat third-placed Lazio to earn a place in next season’s Champions League playoff round.
“On Sunday we have an extremely important match and I want to end my two years with a win,” Benitez said. “My focus is solely on the Lazio game.”
De Laurentiis gave no word on who might take over from Benitez, saying only that they would be named “soon”