The scale of Inter’s problems
Posted on March 21st, 2012
Massimo Moratti left his offices on Monday afternoon to be confronted by two respectable ladies in fur coats – nothing out of the ordinary, especially not in this well-to-do part of Milan. Except they were holding up a pillowcase and on it there was a message for Inter’s president. “Shameful,” it read. “Game Over.”
Ultras can be scary. But hell really hath no fury like women scorned. Police were called. The damage, though, had already been done, as their protest made headline news. Moratti’s sister Bedy deigned it necessary to defend the club’s honor. “Shameful is a word that has nothing to do with Inter,” she tweeted. “Shameful is for the dishonest, the thieves, the tricksters. Not for us. Forza Inter.”
Quibble with the language if you like, but the concerns they outlined in a civil and peaceful manner were legitimate. “Why is it that here only the coaches pay and not those who made the mistake of signing Diego Forlán?” they asked.
Whether Forlán has been a flop or not isn’t really the issue. Injuries have limited his impact at Inter and he’s in the unenviable position of replacing the irreplaceable Samuel Eto’o. The point is he’s become a fall guy because he symbolizes the perceived incompetence among those running the club. Remember how it was revealed only after Forlán was signed on a free transfer from Atlético Madrid last summer that he would be ineligible for the Champions League group stages. How could Inter have overlooked this detail?
If it were an isolated incident then perhaps it could be forgotten. But it’s not. Decision-making at Inter ever since José Mourinho left after winning the treble in 2010 has, it’s fair to say, left a lot to be desired. Though heavily scrutinized already this season, it has come under the microscope with a renewed sense of vigor in the past week.
The catalyst, if you like, was provided by an interview La Gazzetta dello Sport did with Gian Piero Gasperini, which was published, rather poignantly, on Sunday, the day of Inter’s match against Novara. A 3-1 defeat to the newly promoted side back in September had cost Gasperini his job after just five competitive matches.
In hindsight, he says if he’d known what he’d subsequently found out, he would never have taken it in the first place.
Gasperini felt he and the three-man defence he tried to impose had been made a scapegoat. He believed his appointment had been approved on the basis that a change of system would provide the players with the new challenge and new motivation that they clearly needed. It soon became apparent, however, that while Inter agreed the players were worn out, the club held the opposing opinion that they could only form a great team when they played as they always had done.
“So why call me then?” Gasperini asked. “They knew how I play. I didn’t put myself forward. I was chosen.”
Maybe he should have adapted to Inter. But why hire a particular coach when the consensus within the club is that his methods don’t suit the team? It’s bad management.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise then to learn that Gasperini was also undermined in the transfer market. He’d been told that a big name would be sacrificed on the altar of Financial Fair-Play, but that it wouldn’t be Eto’o. Imagine his reaction when he was sold to Anzhi Makhachkala. Gasperini lost the one player who could win matches on his own. Eto’o had scored 37 goals the previous season
So did the club then go and back their coach in the transfer market? No. Gasperini didn’t ask for much. He wanted Genoa striker Rodrigo Palacio, a central midfielder and a defender. He liked Cagliari’s Radja Nainggolan but he wasn’t considered “worthy of Inter”. Nor was Zenit St. Petersburg’s Domenico Criscito. “They tried to get Alexis Sanchez, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Carlos Tévez, a lot less affordable players. I was ready to challenge the world with a trident comprised of Palacio, Diego Milito and Eto’o… It wouldn’t have taken much. Two or three players, not the nine that Inter then bought in the face of Financial Fair-Play. This is the great regret. It wouldn’t have taken a lot to do well.”
Instead Forlán and Mauro Zárate arrived, “both of whom are very different to Palacio.” Eto’o’s replacements, including the young forward Luc Castaignos, have incidentally contributed a pitiful three goals between them in 32 games. To put that into perspective, Eto’o had 24 to his name alone at the same stage last season.
Moratti spoke to Gasperini about the “possibility” of taking Mario Balotelli back from Manchester City at the Dublin Cup in pre-season. “Perhaps he’d spoken to Roberto Mancini. But it was explained to me that we were the only ones at Inter who wanted him. The president and the coach: I thought that would have been enough.” Normally it would. But nothing, it seems, is that straightforward at Inter.
Lessons hadn’t been learned following Gasperini’s dismissal. Sunday’s 1-0 defeat was their first at home to Novara in 59 years. It was also their ninth in Serie A this season. Not since 1947 have Inter suffered so many at this stage of a league campaign.
While Ranieri was criticised for experimenting with another formation [this time a Christmas Tree] and making some debatable substitutions, the papers, for the most part, recognized that Inter’s problems go way beyond the coach. “Ranieri must be supported,” wrote La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Encouragingly, Moratti appears to be behind the coach too. Last week the club released an official statement insisting that reports linking Fabio Capello with the Inter job either now or at the end of the season are “without foundation.” Did Sunday’s result change that stance? Not if Moratti is to be believed. He seemed to have heard the Inter fans singing they didn’t want Capello.
“I haven’t lost faith in this group of players and the coaching staff,” he told Il Corriere della Sera. Moratti doesn’t want to create more uncertainty. He acknowledges this is a delicate situation. Disappointingly, though, while he insists: “no one more than me wants to get back to winning ways,” he also refuses to assume responsibility for the situation.
“It might be that we have or had got some decisions wrong,” he said. “Anyway, I don’t believe there have been that many errors, nor have there been any big ones. I know that football doesn’t always follow arithmetic and that strategies to renew the team don’t always give the results that you’d like.” Tuesday’s La Gazzetta dello Sport begged to differ. Moratti has admitted that selling a homegrown academy graduate like Balotelli was regretful, though perhaps inevitable considering fractures in the dressing room. Davide Santon was given up on too early because of injury. And obviously selling Eto’o was a huge mistake. If a big player needed writing off the wage bill in the interest of Financial Fair-Play then it should have been the faltering Sneijder.
While Inter have recouped €90m in sales in the post Mourinho era, they’ve still managed to splurge nearly €70m on no fewer than 20 more players since then and have got little or no value out of any of them.
The problem in essence is twofold. On the one hand, the club knows it needs to rejuvenate the squad but it has lurched from one extreme to the other, supplementing existing veteran players with raw and often unproven young recruits who are lacking in experience at the highest level and burdened with the expectation of making an immediate impact. On the other, there’s a lot to be said for simply listening to your coach and respecting his opinion.
All Ranieri wanted in the January transfer window was a striker, like Palacio, capable of playing on the outside. He also expressed his desire that Thiago Motta not be sold. Both wishes went unfulfilled. Though Motta wanted to leave, his loss can’t necessarily be made up for by the arrivals of another two midfielders. His qualities aren’t found in either Angelo Palombo or Freddy Guarín, who incidentally was signed even though he is out for a month and ineligible for the Champions League.
“Motta is one of the best midfielders in Europe,” Gasperini told L’Équipe following his move to Paris Saint-Germain. “He is a modern polyvalent player in his movement, who sets the tempo and possesses experience. He is the best midfielder in Italy with Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio.”
Sympathy lies with Ranieri. How can the self-styled ‘Pharmacist’ cure the team if he keeps being given the wrong medicine? That’s what’s really driving everyone crazy at Pazza Inter.
This article first appeared on Fox Soccer