By Duncan Castles
A £10 million buyout clause in Andre Villas-Boas' contract at Tottenham ended Napoli's attempts to appoint the Portuguese as their new coach. The Serie A runners-up approached Villas-Boas last month as they sought a replacement for the outgoing Walter Mazzarri.
Impressed by Villas-Boas' achievements in his first season at Tottenham, and aware that the young coach had watched as the Premier League club failed to complete deals for his top transfer targets in both the summer and winter windows, Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis explored the possibility of bringing the 35-year-old back to Italian football.
Informed of the fee Tottenham would demand for Villas-Boas, De Laurentiis ultimately chose to pursue the cheaper option of recruiting Rafael Benitez, surplus to requirements at Chelsea at the end of a six-month spell as 'interim first-team manager'.
Benitez's appointment on a two-year contract was confirmed on Monday with Napoli's president indicating that he was prepared to invest heavily on players – including a much-improved salary package for key striker Edinson Cavani – in an attempt to take the Italian title away from Juventus.
Before settling on Chelsea's outgoing coach, De Laurentiis conceded that he had approached Villas-Boas, one of Benitez's many recent predecessors at the west London club. “Yes,” De Laurentiis told Portuguese daily Diario de Noticias. “There is a very tempting argument to hire a young coach here.”
Already embroiled in a battle to prevent Gareth Bale from succumbing to the advances of Real Madrid, this summer's managerial changes pose an additional threat to Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy. Florentino Perez is said to have included Villas-Boas on "a waiting list" of back-up candidates should Carlo Ancelotti fail to extract himself from his contract at Paris Saint-Germain to succeed Jose Mourinho at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Villas-Boas is also being monitored by Barcelona as a long-term candidate to coach the club, recently meeting with directors during a visit to the Camp Nou. He has experience of working in Serie A as one of Mourinho's assistants at Inter, and has already been bought out of a contract once in his career - in 2011 when Roman Abramovich paid £13m (€15m) to take him from Porto.
According to well-placed sources, Villas-Boas has been frustrated by aspects of an impressive first season at White Hart Lane in which he led the club to its highest Premier League points total only to miss out on a Champions League qualifying place by a single point. In particular, he would like to have more control over the structure of his senior squad.