On-loan Liverpool shot stopper defends record-setting Benitez

Pepe Reina

Pepe Reina believes that Rafael Benitez’s success on the bench speaks for itself.

The former Liverpool duo reunited at Napoli over the summer, Benitez having replaced the departed Walter Mazzarri at the helm after concluding his temporary stint at Chelsea.

Reina found his place at Anfield usurped upon the arrival of Simon Mignolet, leaving for southern Italy on loan with his long-term future in doubt.

And solid start to the campaign – even in view of a particularly heartbreaking Champions League elimination – had the experienced Spanish coach looking a solid choice for the bench by president Aurelio De Laurentiis.

A blip of poor form of late seemed to threaten the ex-Reds boss’ standing at the San Paolo, however, failure to beat less illustrious outfits Bologna, Atalanta and Chievo on the bounce frustrating supporters.

Rumours abounded in Italy that Benitez’s tenure with the Partenopei could be cut short, but De Laurentiis was keen to dismiss speculation after the side got back on track with a 3-1 win over Milan at the weekend.

And Reina, who also came in for a fair bit of stick in view of a string of lacklustre performances, has come to his countryman’s defence.

“The criticism of Benitez?” he responded to Marca. “The coach is a winner and the rumours around him are unfounded.

“Dispute at the stadium? I don’t consider banners displayed by a dozen supporters.”

The Spaniard spoke in reference to a message from fans in the stands alleging that De Laurentiis has threatened to “kill [our] dreams to meet [your] needs” – an indictment of his policies that led to Benitez’s hiring.

Despite unrest, the Champions League-conquering tactician is actually on the verge of drawing level with an historic mark at Napoli.

A victory on Sunday away to Sassuolo would see the Vesuviani on 50 points in Serie A after 24 rounds, tying a record set in the title-winning 1989-90 season if totals are recalculated to reflect the modern practice of three points for a win.

Napoli will first be focused on the second leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final tie with Roma – down 3-2 from the maiden 90 minutes at the Stadio Olimpico – on Wednesday.

Benitez’s job certainly looks safe – Reina pointing to the coach’s pedigree as ultimate cause to see him continue – though supporters will continue to demand silverware and failing to deliver a cup final berth would undoubtedly be met with indignation.

image: © Eric The Fish (2013)

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