After a superb five year coaching stint at Napoli, Edy Reja brought the Partenopei from the depths of Serie C all the way back near the top of the Serie A table. He did so with shrewd purchases and strong attacking football - all with a budget dwarfed by the bigger clubs in Italy.
But in 2009 with whispers of Champions League in the air, Napoli's tires went flat with an eight game winless streak and an unsettled clubhouse. Sometimes the one who got you where you are isn't necessarily the one to take you to the next level so Napoli's management opted to replace Reja with former AC Milan great Roberto Donodoni.
Of course Reja was the one who took a shine to young American primavera striker Vincenzo Bernardo last fall after watching him score against his first team while causing some unexpected trouble for his defense in practice. Reja had the club sign Bernardo to a professional contract and has since had the New Jersey native train with the first team almost every day.
Now with Reja out of the picture, we've got to wonder what this will mean for Bernardo's future chances at Napoli. In January, the club turned down several loan offers from Serie B clubs as well as teams in England, Belgium, and Romania since they wanted an ironclad deal that he would play (and were even willing to provide financial incentives to ensure he saw plently of playing time). Instead, the 19 year old remained at Napoli training with the first team while making occasional appearances for the primavera (reserve) side.
When asked about the new coaching situation at Napoli, Bernardo stated: "I'm grateful to coach Reja both for the chance with Napoli and for all I've learned from him. I'm looking forward to learning from Coach Donadoni and I remember watching him back he he was playing for the Metrostars."
Word out of the Napoli camp is that Donadoni has seen Bernardo in training with the first team and it appears he is remaining with that group for now - a good sign.
As Napoli's chances for earning a Champions League and UEFA Cup positions start to fade, the chances that Bernardo could actually suit up at least once for the Napoli first team seem to be increasing. When teams hit the end phase of the season well clear of the relegation zone and out of the running for a European spot (the limbo zone), managers are more likely to experiment with young players and to start laying the groundwork for the future. After last weekend's 1-1 draw with Reggina (which was nearly a loss before Ezequiel Lavezzi saved a point), Napoli now appears more firmly entrenched in the limbo zone.
While this does not mean Donadoni is ready to start experimenting yet, don't be surprised to see him give a few more young players a runout in the San Paolo as the season fades. Whether one of them is Bernardo remains to be seen but hey, you never know.