Inter’s Jenga game has led the faults of the team to show faster than expected and a project of deconstruction is needed before reconstruction.
After losing by three goals to Bologna at home, Inter has possibly managed to swoop even lower than many thought to be possible. Seven wins in a row under Claudio Ranieri seems like a distant memory and what at one point looked like a possible Scudetto challenge has now turned out to fall apart so dramatically that Inter has got little to no chance of making next year’s Champions League.
Losses to Lecce, Roma, Novara and Bologna as well as drawing to Palermo 4:4 at home, have led to dissatisfaction within the Inter fans and almost all of the disappointed has deservedly been vented at the management, more specifically towards Massimo Moratti and to lesser extent, the technical director Marco Branca, the former player, who has gotten a bit of a reputation within the Nerazzurri faithful for literally going on holiday during the middle of the summer market period.
Inter’s mishaps have been caused by years of mismanagement that has led the club to a situation of being forced to play Jenga game. Take out Samuel Eto’o and the tower is starting to shake, take out Thiago Motta and the tower collapsed.
You could excuse Inter management for selling them, I would’ve done the same in their situation – the offer for Eto’o was in all honesty too good to refuse and Motta was begging to leave. As addition, in case of Motta, Inter bought an interesting replacement in Fredy Guarin, but this is where the praise ends.
Already when speaking of Guarin, I don’t think he is actually capable of filling Motta’s shoes, rather he is someone who would be a good partner for a player just like Motta.
Football is not a Jenga game which you should play until the tower collapses and then start over, in football you can get new pieces which you don’t have to put on top of the tower but rather into the empty spaces below. You don’t necessarily need to put them into the place where you took out Eto’o or Motta. You need to put them into places which make the tower stronger. Inter has failed to sign anyone over last two years that makes the core of the team stronger, rather they’ve been adding new pieces on top of the tower, further destabilising their tower.
The game of Inter has been missing the two because they and Sneijder were the only class players who want to inject and are capable of injecting pace into Inter’s game, they want to go forward and not wait around. Something the current side can be described with is lack of urgency – in last games they have always been almost walking pace with passing, movement, taking throw-ins and so on. That is until they’ve managed to fall behind after a defensive mistake. Only after that do they start to push hard, but by that time it is too late as the opponent has parked the bus and Inter’s attacks looks toothless, with the only hope being that Sneijder can pull a rabbit out of a hat.
Inter needs to deconstruct
Now, casting aside the Jenga-tower analogies to explain the management of the squad and moving to practical matters regarding the future. What stands ahead for Inter is a period of reconstruction, but before that, the current team needs to be deconstructed to its very core. All sentimentality must be cast aside except for players like Javier Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso and Diego Milito, who could be given a role in the squad for their past achievements and their importance to the team as whole, but under no circumstances a guaranteed place in the starting line-up.
When we look at the goalkeeping position then one feels that this is the position where there is no need to panic with Julio Cesar not really to blame for the crisis. He still has to ask from himself: “Am I doing everything possible to command the defence ahead of me?” Besides him, Inter still has 50% of Emiliano Viviano and promising goalkeeper Francesco Bardi is currently playing on loan in Serie B.
Now moving on to defence and the frailties start. Maicon is the player who has gotten off with the least blame in comparison to what he deserves in this crisis. His contribution to the team this season has been very minimal and seems to be the example of bad ageing. These days, all he has to offer to the team are his crosses – in attack he struggles to get past anyone and this powerful running was a big part of his playing style. Also when I’d say his decision-making and passing has been poor, I’d be being generous. And on top of all that, he struggles to get back to defence. He is a player that can be sold for decent money while getting rid of a good chunk of wage.
In central defence the old heads of Lucio and Walter Samuel have also began to show the old legs and without the Argentine, the defence falls apart completely. Together, those two are reasonable but they need a lot of help and cover from the midfield and take one of them out, replace with someone else, and it is a disaster.
Speaking of the young players, the project of Andrea Ranocchia seems to be heading towards disaster and the stories about new signing Juan Jesus are ones about a tactically very incomplete defender. Judging by how Inter’s coaching staff has failed to improve Ranocchia, it is a claim that causes worry for those hoping that Juan will become a very good defender. From other potential central defenders, both Cristian Chivu and Ivan Cordoba will leave in the summer.
At left-back Yuto Nagatomo is a player who offers a lot in attack and a lot of heart in defence, but with him, the defence looks even less solid because it seems as if he still lacks intelligence in defence and possibly physicality too.
In midfield things are very complicated. Assuming Inter wants to play with 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 in the future (because it is the preferred formation in modern football), there are some doubts whether there is anyone in this team who is currently capable of playing the role of a pure central midfielder or defensive midfielder at high level.
I doubt january signing Angelo Palombo will be signed on a permanent basis and Dejan Stankovic will be leaving too. That leaves Joel Obi, Esteban Cambiasso, Andrea Poli, Javier Zanetti and Fredy Guarin. Joel Obi is clearly not capable of playing at this level for now as for me he is a good example of a player running around and having no idea about what he is doing. He needed to be loaned out during the January window.
Cambiasso is not capable of providing both offensive and defensive contribution at the same time and he is not the best passer of the ball. Javier Zanetti is simply not a midfielder and although he always plays a reasonable game, he should be kept away from midfield as he is far too reserved and cautious for that role. The duo started also against Bologna and they clearly offer a little threat in terms of attack from midfield and while trying to attack, they leave spaces they are uncapable of covering in defence.
On the positive side for the Nerazzurri, Andrea Poli has been one of the only bright spots in this time of crisis for Inter and Fredy Guarin is yet to show himself. Inter might let one of those leave after the loan deal expires in summer, but sending Poli away looks unlikely and Guarin will probably be good enough too.
When looking higher into midfield, Wesley Sneijder is still a class player and Riccardo Alvarez has a lot of talent.
Attack is a big problem. There is no player really capable of playing on the wide forward position and this is a huge problem for any team trying to play decent football unless you have a someone like Zlatan Ibrahimovic upfront and a midfield capable of covering a lot of ground.
When looking at this season’s arrivals then I’d start with Diego Forlan whose first season has been ruined by injuries. Should a good offer arrive, Inter should let him go as signing him was a mystery for me in the first place, although I expected him to stay fit and be better when playing. Mauro Zarate will certain leave once his loan deal is over after showing incapability of improving his poor decision-making and tactical discipline.
Talking about the younger players, sending Coutinho out on loan to Espanyol was a very bad move in short-term as he is one of the few with tool-kit to play wide, Luc Castaignos is a very talented forward whose going to fit very well into a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation (only as the central forward) and young Davide Faraoni, who used to be a defender, is showing promise out wide.
Of the two older central forwards, Diego Milito looks to have discovered his form and age effect on the physical side of his game is not that important, therefore he should be capable of carrying this attack as striker for one or maybe even two more seasons. However Giampaolo Pazzini is someone who is very ill-equipped to start in a big team – his role should be that of an impact sub, the guy you throw on as extra striker when you need a goal or when you have the opponent pushed into their box. All around, his stamina is poor, he is quite slow, not very impressive technically and lacking vision as well as passing ability.
And before starting with reconstructing the squad, it is quite clear that in summer Claudio Ranieri will (have to) leave unless he produces a miracle in the Champions League or in Serie A. Even with all the problems caused by the management, he has once again ended up showing that he lacks something to really control a big team. It is inexcusable for him to lose to the likes of Lecce, Novara and Bologna in space of one month even with the handicapped squad he has, even more so after he himself had shown that those players can win.
The reconstruction phase – manager
The four or five names that should be in the heads of Inter management for the role of the manager are Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Andre Villas-Boas, Francesco Guidolin and Fabio Capello. Minus Guidolin, it is not even guaranteed that any of those targets are available or would want to come, but it is possible that at least one of the three formerly mentioned guys would be open to the challenge in summer. A very brilliant option would be Cesare Prandelli, but barring an incredible flop by Italy in the Euro 2012, he will not be available.
The obvious preference of Moratti and Inter fans would be getting back Mourinho if there was any chance of it, but from the five above, it is Guardiola who could be the best option because this team needs more than the injection of life Mourinho could offer, it needs to build a team that will not collapse should it manager leave and that is not expecting to win every trophy it hunts in the first season. Pep has shown in Barcelona that he is a smart manager who is open to new ideas and capable of embedding young players. It is clear that he is also hungry to prove himself outside of Barca and Inter would be a perfect test of his ability if they can offer him the support in the market, the interest of both parties to reach a union in the future is also something that has figured in the European media for a couple of years now. However he is still considering a contract extension from Barca.
The options of Mourinho and Guardiola would probably be the best, but not necessarily because of their ability but because they are one of the few managers who’d get free hands in making changes within the team. Other managers shouldn’t have such restraints, but the reality of how Inter works is like that.
Of others, Villas-Boas is familiar with the surroundings at Inter and the players and is probably the most likely of all the five options because as things stand, Chelsea might very well cast him aside in the summer even if Roman Abramovich has supported him. His struggle during the first season in Premier League is something Inter has to take into account, but Inter would be a slightly different project and building more from the ground up and with less initial expectations than Chelsea. The issues within the squad are much more clearer to the directors and even more so to the fans, because of that Inter’s management cannot expect people to look the other way just by hiring a top class manager.
The idea of Guidolin hasn’t been tossed around much, but when studying his CV, there are a couple of bumps along the road as you’d expect from a well-travelled manager, but overall picture is very good and in Udinese he has shown great capability to fit his squad to the players he has, changing his style if necessary and creating a compact unit without requiring much time. He is someone who definitely deserves a chance at a big team eventually.
Option of Capello is something that Moratti has wanted for years and he is another one whose opinion would be taken into consideration at similar level to the one of Guardiola and Mourinho. And on top of that, he is brilliant at getting the results in the league. On other side of the coin, there would probably be some second thoughts from Inter management when actually putting a team together for him as expecting Capello to stay for the long run is very optimistic.
The reconstruction phase – players
To reconstruct the team, Moratti will once again be forced to find a way to invest his own money into club, but the fact, that the club cannot buy without going into red, is a caused by the lazy financial management of the team and Moratti will have to face the consequences of his own lack of action in the past or choose the way of club backing down from the big game for at least a few years in hope of building a side through the academy and raw talents.
When you looking at the current side, only Julio Cesar, Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito of the best starting line up are the one’s who I’d consider as starting material for next season. That pretty much says that the current back-bone of the team is very fragile. Javier Zanetti could still play, but he should be a left-back or a right-back and there needs to be a manager with the balls to bench him if there are better options. Then there are the likes of Lucio, Walter Samuel and Esteban Cambiasso who still have something to offer if the new coach manages to create a solid unit, but they need to be very heavily assessed.
The likes of Andrea Poli and Fredy Guarin could be tried together in midfield at some point this season and also both should get a chance to play alongside Cambiasso in a midfield duo with Cambiasso as a pure defensive midfielder to see how he does and how the defence behind them does.
The young defenders like Andrea Ranocchia and Juan cannot be managed like every other squad member, the coaches need to make an extra effort to prepare and improve those players, most importantly their intelligence on the football pitch. Something Mauro Tassotti does with defenders in Milan very well. Same can be said about Yuto Nagatomo defensive abilities, because currently the tactical instability his inclusion creates almost outweighs what he offers in attack.
The young attacking players like Davide Faraoni, Coutinho, Riccardo Alvarez and Luc Castaignos should be a part of the team but not integral parts of it for now. Maybe someone like Mourinho could also turn the very raw potential of Joel Obi into something useful. In youth team there is the attacking midfield talent of Daniel Bessa that definitely needs to be looked into and Giampaolo Pazzini is a decent substitute to have.
When counting all those outfield players together, there are two full-backs, four central defenders, three central midfielders plus Obi, five attacking midfielders/wide players and three centre forwards. It has to be noted of course that Maicon will probably stay and Diego Forlan too, but overall, the situation of what Inter needs does not change. They offer extra options in already covered areas where we can improve with or without them.
Full-back situation: There is a need for a starting quality full-back with the best possible immediate impact solution being a pair of Javier Zanetti and a new, good right-back or left-back. There has been talk of Aleksandar Kolarov and Mauricio Isla, but the later has also shown to be great in central midfield this season. The option of Isla is something that has interested Inter for a long time and having him replace Maicon in starting line-up would be a good move. I would bring in Isla and use Javier Zanetti as left-back while assessing how Yuto Nagatomo improves in defensive department before going in for a left-back.
Centre-back situation: A player who could start at top-level is probably needed, but the difficult part is finding one that fits with who we have in this team. Someone with intelligence, physical presence and no non-sense type of defending is needed, someone similar to Andrea Barzagli, who has become an important cog in the Juventus team this season.
Central midfield situation: The pairing of Poli and Guarin is interesting, but in my opinion the midfield would benefit most from someone who can replace Motta’s passing ability and who can get the ball moving forward quickly. It wouldn’t hurt the Inter management to see if Nuri Sahin is available for a decent price in the summer as he is clearly struggling to get playing time in Real Madrid. The other option is to get a player who has great work-rate, physical abilities and who offers good defensive intelligence with decent passing ability (someone in the style of Yaya Toure) and pair him up with a similar player.
Attacking situation: The attacking midfield position is set with Wesley Sneijder, should he stay. There are also Riccardo Alvarez, Daniel Bessa and Coutinho who have the talent to become great playmakers but need guidance, patience and time. Coutinho can also offer an option out wide and so could Bessa. The striker position is also set, especially when Diego Forlan stays.
But there is still need for players capable of playing out wide and this is where another long time target Ezequiel Lavezzi is almost the perfect man for the job. Lucas Moura could also be brought in for the other side for not necessarily immediate impact. But whatever is done a payer of proven quality like Lavezzi is a must.
One other player who could be brought in (back) is Goran Pandev who in fairness is a good supporting player. If you expect him to carry the team then you are in for a bad surprise, but when is the second or third act in a counter-attacking team, his work-rate and running ability, paired with tactical discipline and reasonable technical side, makes him a good asset whose contribution might not be very obvious but it’s still there. His second season in Inter was not easy, but he is playing well again in Napoli. However, it does look likely that Napoli will buy him on permanent basis, or at least they should if they have the option.
Inter must accept that in order to build a team with a long future and a team which can be succesful already during next season, they might be forced to find a way to spend roughly 20 million euros on defence, another 10 to 15 in midfield and 25 to 50 million in attack to get in one top class wide forward and maybe a dazzling, more unpredictable young talent with potential for becoming the commercial face and fan magnet of Inter.
Bit of that spending could be recouped by sales and also by cutting the wages and being reasonable in wages being handed out but on another note, Poli and Guarin also need to be bought outright.
Is Moratti willing to splash out the amount close to 100 million euros in the summer? I guess he already knows the answer in his head, but for wider public, it is unknown. The summer ahead will be decisive for Inter, while I’m sure there are cheaper options and ways out there to do the necessary rebuild, I am also not so sure if Inter’s management and Moratti can afford to think outside the box at the moment. Unlike in the past, the fans have grown used to winning and they are unlikely to be patient when Inter is in a similar situation again next season.
For last two years, Inter has brought in players who don’t come with big reputation, now it is time for them to bring in players who will come in with the goal of them being starters from the off and for a period of 4-5 years. Only this way will the managers of the team stop preferring the senators of Inter just based on what they have done in the past.
And whoever arrives, individual quality alone will never be enough, the manager needs to knit them together into a good unit. Therefore it is necessary that Inter no longer waits until the last-minute to make half of its deals but rather knows already by the end of the season who he wants to get and who will leave.