Never could I imagine that I would actually defend Rafael Benitez, a man I don't exactly like, but here we are. This awkward position stems from the end of this story in the fallout from Napoli's deflating 1-0 loss to Lazio in the Coppa Italia.
Benitez was asked by the Napoli-supporting pundit Gianni Di Marzio in the studio whether his mind was still on the job and if the season would be a failure if they failed to win the Europa League?
"I want to prepare for the game with Fiorentina, then after that I’ll talk it over with the President."
Parts of the media are treating this like a "gotcha" moment, claiming it's somehow definitive proof of Rafa's impending departure. But what else can the manager say there? We all know the snapshot of Napoli right now is awful. They've been in the top three of Serie A for a good chunk of the season but they've had a crucial dip in form that has unfortunately coincided with Lazio playing as if they were Roman Gods that descended on to a football pitch with Felipe Anderson being a combination of Jupiter and Mars.
But here's the thing: despite the loss of form for Napoli the season is not dead. If the Partnopei can win their match with Fiorentina this weekend, they can still count themselves in the race for the last UEFA Champions League place. And even if they don't win that match they still have the Europa League quarterfinal. While beating Wolfsburg is a tall order, if they can negotiate that then Napoli has every right to believe they can win the trophy and take their place in next season's Champions League group stage. This season could look a lot different by the end.
The conventional wisdom says that Benitez is as good as gone, so much so that the media are already spinning out lists of potential replacements -- for the record Unai Emery would be my choice -- but if Napoli can rouse themselves to a Europa League triumph then maybe Benitez should be kept. Right now his winning percentage at Napoli (56.82) is better than at Valencia (54.32) and at Liverpool (56) with a Coppa Italia win and a top 3 finish in 2014 already in the bag.
So give Benitez and Napoli a chance to make something of this season and don't buy in to the games the Italian media love to play.