The image of Rafael Benítez as detached, controlling, uptight and somehow slightly disdainful has taken quite a battering in southern Italy during recent weeks. Napoli's new manager regularly spends spare afternoons on a film set where he and his players have fun acting out minor roles in a forthcoming "Christmas comedy" which is proving a welcome diversion from their twin Serie A and Champions League challenges.
Given that Aurelio de Laurentiis, the film producer, is Napoli's president, participation is compulsory but, despite a certain diffidence in front of the cameras, Benítez is reported to have fully entered into the spirit of a project that reflects the depth and range of his club's roots in the wider community.
It was not quite the same last season at Chelsea but the Spaniard acknowledges that the ties that bind football and daily life in Naples are strangely familiar. "There are similarities between Napoli and Liverpool," acknowledges the former Chelsea, Liverpool, Internazionale and Valencia manager. "The mentality of the fans, the way the players and the supporters feel the club. The atmosphere inside Stadio San Paolo is amazing. It's like Anfield."
The instinct that Naples, last season's Serie A runners-up, was the right fit had been confirmed back in July. During the team's pre-season training camp high in the Dolomites, hundreds of holidaying Napoli fans flooded the main square of their base in the village of Dimaro to serenade a coach described by De Laurentiis as "the most important signing of the summer".
After the hostility Chelsea's then interim coach experienced along the road to winning the Europa League and qualifying for the Champions League at Stamford Bridge last season Benítez's current demeanour is that of a man feeling the sun warming his back for the first time after a long hard winter.
A winning start to the Serie A campaign, maintained in Saturday night's 2-0 home victory against Atalanta, has helped but, with almost everyone he meets in the dense, chaotic streets surrounding Stadio San Paolo wanting to shake his hand, Benítez seems to be swiftly erasing the memories of his brief, difficult, tenure at Inter in 2010.
"It's good to be back in Italy," says Benítez, whose team, billeted in Arsenal's Champions League group, begin their European campaign at home to last year's beaten finalists, Borussia Dortmund, on Wednesday evening. "I'd missed Italy. The Napoli supporters and the people around the team are amazing, they have so much passion. The fans have shown they have a passion for their manager. That means a lot. You always want to do your best, of course, but with that commitment and love it is even more important to do well."
Although he must repay such faith without El Matador, aka Edinson Cavani, Napoli's former star Uruguay forward who was sold to Paris Saint-Germain for around £55m during the summer, Benítez appears to have re-invested the Cavani cash cleverly.
Gonzalo Higuaín, the Argentina striker coveted by Arsenal, has joined from Real Madrid for £32m. Meanwhile the team's shift from the configuration favoured by Walter Mazzarri of three centre-halves bolstered by wing-backs to a 4-2-3-1 formation has been facilitated by the import of Raul Albiol, a versatile defender, also from Real Madrid, along with his former Bernabéu team-mate, the attacking midfielder José Callejón and Dries Mertens, a winger recruited from PSV Eindhoven.
There is a reunion with Pepe Reina, Benítez's old Liverpool goalkeeper, recently parachuted into Naples's bumper to bumper traffic on loan from Anfield and now enjoying life with a revamped team that their coach claims are currently "70% there". Key players inherited by the 53-year-old include Marek Hamsik, a creator with the most assists in Serie A last season, and Lorenzo Insigne, the locally adored Italy Under-21 forward.
Benítez is particularly delighted with Hamsik, so much so that he claims Gareth Bale is a poor man's version of the Slovakian. "Is Bale worth the €100m Real Madrid have paid for him?" he muses. "If so, then that says you can't put a price on Marek – and he's not for sale."
De Laurentiis expects a title challenge and believes Napoli should be ruffling feathers in Turin, Milan and Rome. This is precisely the sort of challenge Benítez has thrived on. He exerted a similar effect in Madrid and Barcelona while twice winning La Liga with an underdog Valencia side. And even better, Napoli's squad contains sufficient components to indulge his penchant for rotation. "We'll rotate 19 or 20 players all season," he promises.
It remains early days but so far life in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius looks to be suiting him. Despite its undoubted intensity the Neapolitan mood music seems in stark contrast to the percussive thud of persistent, corrosive and, increasingly puzzling, criticism from certain Chelsea fans.
"You can't win everyone over," says a now sanguine Benítez. "After a few weeks you could see there was a group who would not change their minds. It was strange behaviour. But the majority of Chelsea fans were fantastic; I have thousands of notes saying thank you."
Now he is concentrating on sending a message to his new boss. "This is De Laurentiis's 10th year in charge here," said Napoli's manager. "So I hope we will bring him a nice present next spring."
Minor one-off roles in Christmas comedies are all very well but a glossily packaged DVD highlighting his latest side's journey towards Serie A and/or Champions League glory is the sort of production Benítez remains most comfortable starring in.