Can Andrea Stramaccioni save Inter?
Posted on April 1st, 2012
If Andrea Stramaccioni was still in need of a reminder that Inter have a reputation as a club for whom craziness is nothing out of the ordinary then seeing Mario Balotelli gatecrash his first press conference as their new manager on Tuesday afternoon left him under no further illusion.
On returning to his seat after shaking the former Inter striker’s hand, he expressed surprise, made a little joke and gave a shrug. Stramaccioni was unfazed. He has done his best throughout his life to be prepared for anything.
Reflecting on his sudden promotion from his position as coach of Inter’s principal youth team, the Primavera, Stramaccioni struck the right balance between having confidence in his own abilities and conveying humility at receiving the chance to take charge of a club that until the end of last year were the reigning world champions.
Asked if he felt like this was his destiny, Stramaccioni replied: “More than anything I’d say I feel lucky.” He spoke of watching and admiring the first team from “the other side of the bushes” at Inter’s training ground. It evokes the image of a curious kid spying on the grown ups. To put that into some perspective, Javier Zanetti is his senior by nearly two and a half years.
Yet don’t labour under the misapprehension that the young Stramaccioni is wet behind the ears. He feels ready for this job. “I am not afraid,” he insisted. “I don’t even feel like I am running the risk of being burned by it. Coaching Inter, for whoever does my job, is a dream. I have been asked to bring back enthusiasm and get my ideas across. I only have one certainty and that’s my work. I believe in it.”
The self-assurance he exudes is just one of the reasons why he has inevitably been dubbed Stra-Mou-ccioni or The Stramacci-One. On the one hand, the nametag represents nostalgia for José Mourinho. His shadow continues to loom large over the club. It came as no surprise on Tuesday night when Mourinho broke his recent press silence after Real Madrid’s 3-0 win against APOEL in the Champions League, that he chose not to talk about his current team but to maintain his personality cult at Inter by suggesting, as he always does with his former clubs, that “one day I will return.”
Stramaccioni knows exactly what game Mourinho is playing not least because he played it himself during his official unveiling by presenting the image that he is close to the fans. “I watched Inter play Marseille from the Curva,” he revealed. “The passion impressed me. Seeing the supporters cry touched me deeply.” A shared understanding of the power of communication aside, it will ultimately be facts not words that substantiate the comparisons between Stramaccioni and Mourinho.
He is without question one of Italy’s brightest coaching prospects. In his column for La Gazzetta dello Sport, Arrigo Sacchi likened the hiring of Stramaccioni to when “Joan Laporta entrusted Barcelona to Pep Guardiola” drawing the parallel that they both had great success with their clubs’ youth teams. Such an opinion from one of the most respected and influential tacticians of all-time carries weight. So what’s the story behind Stramaccioni’s rise to prominence?
Born in Rome to a well-to-do family, his background isn’t typical of most footballers. Stramaccioni’s father is an architect and his mother an Italian and Latin teacher. That’s not unimportant. Structure. Composition. They’re all things that come in handy when it comes to coaching. As a boy, Stramaccioni showed promise as a centre-back at local side Romulea. He was thought of as among the best in the capital and went on to represent it in a regional championship, playing on the same team as Alessandro Nesta, Francesco Totti and Marco Di Vaio.
Recognising his potential, Bologna drafted Stramaccioni into their academy, but a knee injury suffered while playing for their Under-20s, which was made worse by one of his surgeries, brought a premature end to his playing career. Stramaccioni went to law school instead, writing his thesis on the Bosman and Calciopoli rulings, before trying his hand at coaching.
Everything he touched turned to gold. Stramaccioni led the Zeta Sport Under-16s to a national title and the Romulea Under-14s to a couple of regional championships. One of his former players, Umberto Improta, recalled to Il Corriere dello Sport what it was like working under him. “Strama knew how to transmit this extraordinary motivational charge. There were newspaper articles on the walls. Chalkboards with tactics on them. We thought that this was what it was like in the professional game, not among the amateurs.”
His achievements didn’t go unnoticed. Stramaccioni received a phone call from Bruno Conti, the head of Roma’s academy and was offered a job at his hometown club. He didn’t disappoint. Stramaccioni won the equivalent of the Scudetto with the Under-14s in 2007 and the Under-16s in 2010. Again, his eye for detail and painstaking preparation marked him out as a cut above the rest. La Repubblica related an anecdote from the coach of Bari’s Under-16s who was shocked to discover that his team had been secretly filmed by one of Stramaccioni’s assistants. No wonder one of their set-pieces, which had caused all sorts of havoc against everyone else in the division, had been figured out by Stramaccioni’s Roma.
Conti planned to offer him the Primavera bench, but politically it was impossible. It’s current incumbent, Daniele De Rossi’s father Alberto, could not be asked to step aside for the obvious reason that it would cause a problem between the club and one of it’s best players. The time had come for Stramaccioni to move on and there was no shortage of takers. Inter went above and beyond to lure him to Appiano Gentile as a replacement for Fulvio Pea and he has more than lived up to expectation.
Last weekend, Stramaccioni looked on as Inter’s Under-20s overcame Ajax in a penalty shoot-out to win the inaugural NextGen series, a competition that aspires to be the Champions League of youth football. He had been up until late the night before watching tape of their penalty takers with the team’s goalkeeper Raffaele Di Gennaro. As usual, his meticulousness paid off. In attendance at the final in London was Inter’s president Massimo Moratti. What he saw caught his imagination. Could Stramaccioni be the answer to their first team’s problems? Who better to oversee the rejuvenation of an aging squad than the man responsible for getting stars of the future like Lorenzo Crisetig, Daniel Bessa and Samuele Longo to fulfil their potential?
There was a buzz about Stramaccioni. It was a marked contrast to the malaise over on the other side of the bushes. Sunday’s 2-0 defeat to Juventus, the 10th of Claudio Ranieri’s spell in charge of Inter, added to the depression. But it wasn’t necessarily curtains for him. For an hour or so, Inter had, relatively speaking, played their best football under his tenure. Door-stepped outside his offices on Monday afternoon, Moratti was pressed on whether Ranieri would keep his job until the end of the season. “I think so,” he said.
Five hours later, a statement was released. Moratti, impulsive as ever, had changed his mind. Stramaccioni was to become his third manager this season and his fifth since Mourinho left after winning the treble in 2010. When Milan play Inter in May, their boss Max Allegri will have faced a different coach in each of the five derbies he has participated in these past two seasons. It’s a damning indictment. Nothing has changed at Inter, except the managers of course, which tells its own story, namely that the problem lies not with the tacticians, but elsewhere, in particular with the players and the board.
Which begs the question: Can Stramaccioni realistically triumph where his predecessors have failed? There’s a lot to admire in his appointment. It does indicate that Inter are perhaps genuinely serious about heading in a new direction. By handing the reins to Stramaccioni, who Moratti for now insists is not a caretaker, Inter appear to be thinking long-term. But since when has that ever been in their vocabulary?
Moratti gave a very revealing insight into his outlook on football only a couple of weeks ago when he said: “A sensible idea might be to start thinking about the future not in immediate terms and build an essentially young team. The problem is that if after three games everything doesn’t go well you start to regret it.”
Starting with Genoa this weekend Stramaccioni has nine matches to convince Moratti to trust in youth. It might be the beginning of a new cycle for Inter. Then again, it could also be Groundhog Day.
This article first appeared on ESPN.com