Napoli hope to confirm the appointment of Rafael Benítez as their new manager next week upon the Spaniard's return from the United States, where the Chelsea interim manager is concluding his short-term employment with the Europa League winners on their post-season tour.
Benítez's agent, Manuel García Quilón, met with the Napoli president, Aurelio de Laurentiis, in Rome on Thursday and is understood to have agreed a two-year contract, possibly with an option for a third, worth around ¤3.5m (£3m) a season. He would replace Walter Mazzarri, Napoli's manager of almost four years who announced last week he would be leaving the club despite steering them to second in Serie A and a place in next season's Champions League. Mazzarri is expected to take over at Internazionale.
De Laurentiis confirmed in an interview with Sky Italia on Friday: "Benítez is the new coach of Napoli. I gave myself a birthday present. I'll make it official in the next few days as he has to end his time at Chelsea, but he'll be our new coach for the next two years."
That confidence may be slightly premature given the deal is still to be formally concluded, and Benítez could yet be swayed to move elsewhere if an offer was to materialise from Paris Saint-Germain or a leading club in Spain. Yet Napoli remain the 53-year-old's likeliest destination, with his future set to be confirmed upon his return to London with Chelsea on Sunday.
The Spaniard has enjoyed a tumultuous if ultimately successful seven-month stint at Stamford Bridge after replacing Roberto Di Matteo last November. Chelsea won the Europa League and finished third in the Premier League, ensuring qualification for the Champions League, to meet the objectives laid down by Roman Abramovich when he was hired. There were near-misses, too, in the Capital One Cup, FA Cup and Fifa Club World Cup in Japan over a draining campaign that stretched to 69 competitive games.
While it quickly became clear that the supporters would not countenance his permanent appointment, Benítez's current contract technically runs to the end of June, though Chelsea have indicated that his duties will effectively be concluded once their two-game tour of the US is over, when he would be free to depart with their blessing. Chelsea lost the first of the two games with Manchester City 4-3 in St Louis on Thursday, having led 3-0 a little after the hour-mark, and will play the return fixture in New York on Saturday.
Benítez has coached in Italy before, albeit only briefly, having managed Inter for six months in 2010 before his sacking after success in the Fifa Club World Cup.
His first task upon his appointment may well prove to be smoothing a swap deal that sees Edinson Cavani depart for Manchester City with Edin Dzeko, scorer of two goals at the Busch Stadium against Chelsea, likely to move in the opposite direction.
The Italian club have also been linked with Benítez's former Liverpool charge Lucas Leiva, despite the Brazilian midfielder signing a new long-term contract at Anfield in mid-April.
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