Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Board level cull the only cure for Inter?
The more things change, the more they stay the same. When looking at the Serie A table this season, that phrase has never seemed more accurate as, while perennial contenders Milan and Juventus battle for yet another Scudetto, all around them are things familiar to long term watchers of Italian football. Palermo are a good example - a side viewed as a team comfortable in mid-table but whose president is notoriously fickle when it comes to sacking managers - sit in 11th place under Bertolo Mutti, their third coach of the current campaign.
There are few surprises at present: only Lecce and Parma battling relegation; Udinese, Napoli and Lazio fighting for the remaining European places; and the success of Vincenzo Montella at seventh-placed Catania. The old cliché is also clearly true at the side who have dominated the calcio landscape in recent seasons as, make no mistake, normal service has most definitely been resumed at Inter - a side wallowing ten points from the top three and reeling after a disappointing 2-0 defeat at bitter rivals Juventus this past weekend.
That loss was their 12th of the season and means they have taken just five of the last 36 points available, a run of results that saw them issue a statement late on Monday announcing the departure of coach Claudio Ranieri. That president Massimo Moratti had, merely hours earlier, told reporters he believed in the Roman and that he would "stay with us until June" shows once again that decisions are being made rashly, with no coherent strategy in place. It's a feeling that only grows listening to Ranieri's predecessor, Gian Piero Gasperini, who highlighted similar contradictions when revealing he and the president agreed to sell Wesley Sneijder and keep Samuel Eto'o only to see the reverse happen last summer and seriously hamper the coach's plans.
Replacing Ranieri until the end of the season is Andrea Stramaccioni, a youth-team coach who has only been at the club since June 2011 when he moved from Roma's highly successful academy. He has carried on that tradition, winning the inaugural NextGen Series last week and proving that the future for Inter may not be as bleak as is currently being painted.
Still reeling from the shock appointment of such an unknown coach, Italian daily La Stampa likened the 36-year-old to "a rookie gymnast who launched into a triple pike, and we're unsure he knows how to land". It is an apt description of a man whose coaching career has barely even begun and who is now being asked to do so at a level so far beyond anything he has previously encountered.
Forced to retire from playing aged just 25, Stramaccioni has enjoyed quite a successful career at youth level, winning National Championships with Roma's Under-15s in 2007 and Under-17s in 2010. When leaving last summer for the Under-20 job at Inter, he cited the presence of Luis Enrique - himself only 41 - and Daniele De Rossi's father Alberto (current coach of Roma's own Primavera side) blocking his progress as the major reason.
He certainly has inherited a task to be reckoned with now, however, with Inter's first-team squad often condemned for being too old, while the departure of Jose Mourinho is usually cited as being key to their post-2010 collapse. Yet despite the theory that the Portuguese leaves scorched earth behind him, his exit following that unprecedented and remarkable Treble-winning season mirrors what happened when he left Chelsea just a few years earlier. As the Blues rallied to reach the Champions League final under Avram Grant, and Carlo Ancelotti then led them to the Double, Rafael Benitez was able to lift both the Italian Super Cup and World Club Cup despite overseeing a disastrous domestic campaign, while Leonardo led them on a superb run to second place and a Coppa Italia win.
Replacing those who have stayed too long may well be difficult as UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations mean money will be very tight in the forthcoming seasons as the playing squad seems, at first glance, to need a major overhaul. Yet with a raft of new talent waiting to be promoted, they have a core of 12 players under the age of 27 who can be built around, as well as the on-loan (or co-owned) goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano and exciting attacking players Mattia Destro and Phillipe Coutinho. Even more surprising is that among those 15 names are four regular members of Cesare Prandelli's Italy squad, a rarity in the history of the club.
However, if the tenure of Moratti has taught us anything, it is that it isn't the names of the players who arrive at the Giuseppe Meazza that matter, but who exactly is responsible for buying and selling them - as well as appointing a permanent new coach - that will truly decide how their immediate future pans out. Looking at the club's incredible management structure shows just how many members of Moratti's extended family and former Inter players share duties with no apparent direction or leadership.
Indeed, Gasperini once again gave insight into the disarray as he told Sky Sport Italia that he had "never met Massimo Moratti or [sporting director] Mario Branca" when he arrived at the club, which leaves many wondering quite who is making key decisions for the Nerazzurri. They could do far worse than to jettison half the names on that chart and instead reappoint the man responsible for building the teams that both Roberto Mancini and Mourinho led in their dominant post-Calciopoli era.
Lele Oriali, who quit the club over disagreements with Branca, told Mediaset that he "loves the support shown" to him by the club's fans before adding Moratti must make the decision "calmly, without forcing anyone's hand". Having played a key role in the arrival of not only Mourinho but also Sneijder, Ronaldo, Diego Milito, Esteban Cambiasso and Walter Samuel - to name but a few - he surely is the ideal candidate to reshape Inter around talents like Ricky Alverez, Andrea Poli and Joel Obi.
Without some clear direction, though, the club seems almost certain to fall further behind the leading pack and slip back into the haphazard ways that so blighted the earlier years of Moratti's reign. Having taken charge of the club back in 1995, the president's first four years saw eight coaching changes, while Stramaccioni is already the fifth of the stuttering post-Mourinho era, and is two years younger than their seemingly unageing captain Javier Zanetti.
That simply cannot continue if they are to avoid a repeat of the 18-year league title drought that began in 1989, or avoid sanctions for falling foul of the FFP rules. Common wisdom dictates that if you cut off the head of a snake, the body dies, but in the case of Inter - known in Italy as Il Biscione (The big grass snake) - it might be the only cure.