When Chelsea decided to sack Roberto Di Matteo, the man who had finally brought European glory to Stamford Bridge for Roman Abramovich, their choice for his replacement was universally unpopular by the fans.
Rafa Benitez, in his time as Liverpool boss, had rubbed the Chelsea fans up the wrong way on numerous occasions - to say he was disliked by his own fans would be a minor understatement.
Regularly booed at his own ground, by his own fans, times were tough for Rafa … and trying to get his players to perform in what was fast becoming a poisonous atmosphere was very difficult.
But in the end, the fans may not have liked him, but they had to respect him.
He did wonders for the club under the vilification of his own fans, eventually leaving with a UEFA Europa League title to add to his collection.
The fans still didn’t like the guy, but had to admit he had done a very good job.
But the ’Interim One’ was replaced by the ‘Special One’ and Benitez went into the European job market in high demand.
So at his new club there was little doubt what he would have been after - complete backing from the fans and the board, and that is exactly what he has got in Naples.
After Walter Mazzarri left for Inter Milan the Partenopei needed a high-class replacement to take over the role - step up Rafa.
And he has become popular at the Stadio San Paolo, after bringing in some excellent signings and leading the club to a solid start to the campaign.
It is certainly a far cry from the way the Chelsea fans treated him, and it is clearly a change welcomed by the man himself:
“With the fans passion they are conveying a positive energy. Their affection is really valued in a challenging season. The journey’s going to be long, but we have a competitive squad that is working to its maximum. We are working well and the team is growing. All the players are concentrating on taking this project towards its intended aims – not only for this year, but for next as well.”
A ‘positive energy’ - there was certainly none of that while he was at Stamford Bridge. But considering what he achieved when the fans didn’t have his back, just imagine what he might do with Napoli - when the fans are right behind him.
Only time will tell…
Can Benitez lead Napoli to domestic and continental glory?
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