Rafael Benitez Joins Napoli as Soccer Coach to Replace Mazzarri

Rafael Benitez will coach Napoli for the next two seasons after guiding Chelsea to the Europe League title as interim manager of the English soccer team.

Napoli President Aurelio De Laurentiis announced Benitez’s hiring last night on his Twitter feed, describing the Spaniard as “A man of great international experience. A leader.”

Benitez, 53, will replace Walter Mazzarri, who joined Inter Milan last week. Napoli finished as the runner-up to Juventus in Italy’s Serie A this month and will play in the Champions League for the second time in three seasons.

“Now that the agreement is confirmed, I can say I am very happy and very satisfied for having committed to a great club with an illustrious heritage like Napoli,” Benitez said in comments on his website. “I understand the history of the city and how the club forms a fundamental part of the culture and traditions of Naples.”

Benitez took Chelsea to Europa League victory this month and coached Inter Milan in Serie A for the first half of 2010-11. He’s also managed Valencia and Liverpool.

Mistrusted by some Chelsea supporters following his Liverpool tenure, Benitez was hired on a seven-month contract in November. He also guided the Blues to the F.A. Cup semifinals and a third-place finish in the Premier League, ensuring their 11th straight Champions League appearance.

Benitez also won Spain’s La Liga twice and the 2004 UEFA Cup with Valencia, before leading Liverpool to the Champions League title in 2005.

Napoli’s appearance in Europe’s elite competition in the 2011-12 season was its first since Diego Maradona played for the club in the 1980s. De Laurentiis bought the team when it was forced to restart in the third tier after going bankrupt in 2004.

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