Gennaro Gattuso’s reign as Napoli coach may have started amid turmoil but the former Italy international has put the Serie A club on the path towards a potential Champions League triumph against Barcelona.
The southern Italians head for the Camp Nou on Saturday with a first-ever Champions League quarter-final berth beckoning.
“We certainly want to write an important page in our history,” said Gattuso of a feat which not even Argentine legend Diego Maradona managed to achieve with the club.
Both sides are 1-1 after the last 16, the first leg in the San Paulo Stadium in February.
But Lionel Messi’s Spaniards have not been beaten at home in the Champions League in seven years as they target a 13th consecutive quarter-final berth.
Barcelona finished second in La Liga while Napoli were seventh in Serie A, but having secured a Europa League spot thanks to their Italian Cup victory.
Gattuso admitted his “head was already on Barcelona” as his side wrapped up their league season with a 3-1 win over Lazio last weekend.
“We will play on a high-level stage and we want to be worthy of it,” he said.
“We know that if we want to compete against Barcelona we will have to take risks.”
The big question will be how to stop six-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi, a problem which former AC Milan midfielder Gattuso would have happily tackled as a player.
“I can mark Messi only in my dreams, or on my son’s PlayStation,” said the 42-year-old former Glasgow Rangers player, who won two Champions League titles with AC Milan.
“We are ready to face Barcelona. We have our style, we are prepared. But they have one player named Messi who can leave ten players behind.“
As a player, Gattuso had a fiery reputation, with a dogged never-say-die attitude.
– ‘God of football’ –
In Naples, more than rage he has brought calm to a locker room traumatized after a disastrous first half of the season under Carlo Ancelotti, his former coach in Milan.