Sampdoria success tinged with sadness

MILAN - Antonio Cassano drenched his coach with an ice bucket and danced around in his underpants after Sampdoria clinched a Champions League qualifying berth on Sunday - but the celebrations were overshadowed by talk of departures.

Coach Luigi Del Neri has been heavily linked with Juventus in the media and club owner Riccardo Garrone confirmed sporting director Beppe Marotta was already heading for the Turin club.

"Marotta already gave me his resignation letter two days ago. Del Neri will tell me something tomorrow," he told reporters after Sampdoria beat Napoli 1-0 at home to finish fourth in Serie A.

Twice European Cup winners Juve have endured a dreadful season, finishing seventh, and sporting director Alessio Secco is poised to depart.

Reports said Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez was their first choice to replace interim coach Alberto Zaccheroni but Del Neri now looks favourite after failing to deny the rumours.

"Let's just think about what we have achieved. Samp in the Champions League, it's a fantastic thing," the former AS Roma, Porto, Chievo and Atalanta coach told Sky TV.

However, the 59-year-old with trademark glasses and prominent chin was well aware of his success this term and why he might be courted.

Genoa-based Samp, who won their sole Serie A title in 1991, have only played in the European Cup once before when they reached the 1992 final.

"It's a result which I think is equal to the scudetto won all those years ago because... the team has matured a lot and achieved great results," said Del Neri, wearing a crisp new shirt after prankster Cassano's antics.

Strike partner Giampaolo Pazzini, who scored the crucial goal to boost his hopes of being in Italy's World Cup squad announced on Tuesday, was also coy about his own future.

"We have done something historic to return to the Champions League after so many years. I only want to celebrate. I honestly don't know what will happen," he said.

The usual Italian managerial merry-go-round has already started with Leonardo leaving AC Milan and Parma coach Francesco Guidolin saying on Sunday that he is quitting.

Udinese boss Pasquale Marino previously announced his departure while all eyes are on unsettled Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho once his title winners play the Champions League final against Bayern Munich on Saturday.

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