Internazionale - Italy's Year Zero Club

Inter appointed Andrea Stramaccioni as a manager with an eye on the future, but their obsession with the here and now lead to his sacking. Daniel Storey on an impatient club...

Last Updated: 19/06/13 at 11:08 Post Comment

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In many ways, it is just another summer for Inter. On May 24th they sacked their manager, five days after their last league game of the season. The same day, a club statement confirmed that Walter Mazzarri would be joining from Napoli as his replacement, whilst the same week owner Massimo Moratti had to refute growing rumours that he would soon be selling a large stake of the club to Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir.

So, once again, a new manager will be aiming to begin a summer of rebuilding at the San Siro, and Mazzarri will be tasked in halting a worryingly slide down Serie A. Inter finished 33 points from the top last season, and for the first campaign since 1999/2000, they will not be partaking in European football. For a club of their size, that's unacceptable.

There are still reasons for supporters to be optimistic. The signing of Mauro Icardi from Sampdoria in late April gave a hint that the club may look to do its business early in the transfer window, whilst their new coach last season led Napoli to their highest finish in years. He also utilised a fluid 3-5-2 formation that made the Neapolitans one of the most attractive sides to watch in Europe.

However, fans will also be wary, for they have seen all this before. Mazzarri may have been able to manage for a decade without ever being sacked (a phenomenal achievement in Italian football), but this is the Nerazurri - the coach's streak should be expected to come to an end at Inter. To repeat, this is just another summer.

Inter are what could be labelled as a 'year zero' club, in that each season seems to be the first in a new regime, a new dynasty or a fresh beginning. Year Zero clubs largely gain their status from the actions of an over-zealous owner, whose impatience causes unrest and unease. Decision-making comes from a ruthless desire for instant success, often wilfully ignorant to the complexities faced when aiming for such a target. Chelsea and Real Madrid would be the other two high-profile examples, with Roman Abramovich in particular displaying the aforementioned characteristics. Glory and achievement are addictive emotions to the multi-millionaire, and patience almost treated as an allergy.

There should be no doubt that Massimo Moratti also falls firmly into that camp. The owner (and oil tycoon) took over as Inter President in 1995. Under his stewardship, Inter won five successive Scudettos, but the club has spent over £600million in this time, and Moratti has gained a formidable reputation for sacking managers. Outside the reign of Roberto Mancini (whose success was significantly and undoubtedly aided by the fallout from the Calciopoli scandal), 2002 and 2009 are the only two years in which Inter's owner has not sacked a manager, appointing 21 new coaches in 18 years. That's quite some record.

Moratti's approach was demonstrated in his comments following Mazzarri's appointment. "This change is due to the fact that we had a tough year," he said. "We expect to do well every year. It was an Inter side that had a series of catastrophes in terms of injuries that meant we didn't do as well."

The sacking of Andrea Stramaccioni last month revealed perfectly Moratti's inability to commit to a medium or long-term plan. Inter indeed finished ninth last season (their lowest finish since 1994), but as alluded to by the owner in the quote above, suffered an incredible run of injuries to key players, and Diego Milito, Rodrigo Palacio, Antonio Cassano, Esteban Cambiasso and Walter Gargano were amongst those that suffered spells on the sidelines. In total, 17 first-teasers gained injuries between December and May, crippling sustained performance. From a position of second after 11 games (and one point off the top), Inter fell away dramatically.

Blaming injuries for any manager's sacking is bizarre, but to dismiss a coach who had been appointed to oversee the overhaul and regeneration of the club makes such a decision crazy. Moratti too made the right noises at the time, stating that the new coach "opened new doors" for the club. "You realise he has talent," the owner said of Stramaccioni. "I have to say, he is an option for the future." That future lasted less than a year.

The appointment of Stramaccioni on a permanent basis last summer had given Inter fans hope that their owner may finally be thinking beyond his short-term aims. The new coach had been in charge of the club's Primavera side, leading them to the NextGen title with victory over Ajax in London. Taking over from another short-term, quick fix manager in Claudio Ranieri (who in turn had replaced Gian Piero Gasperini, who'd had five matches before being sacked) Stramaccioni appeared to be the perfect option for the 'project' that Inter required.

Inter's decline, and therefore the need for stability, stems from the departure of Jose Mourinho in 2010. Since then, Inter failed to back Rafa Benitez in the transfer market and then sacked him after initial decline, allowed Leonardo to leave for PSG without putting up much of a fight and then ran through Gasperini and Ranieri in a relative blink of the eye.

When a manager in Jose Mourinho's style leaves a Year Zero club, a decline is inevitable. That is not to be critical of the Portuguese, for he is a fantastic coach. He guided Inter to an unprecedented treble and their first Champions League win in 45 years, and is rightly lauded for his achievements in Milan. However, such is his all-encompassing air wherever he operates, a deep void is left. Everything under Mourinho is geared for instant success, but his methods do not necessarily ensure continued development. This is why he matched so memorably with Moratti - a Year Zero manager at a Year Zero club.

Jose left an ageing squad in Milan. The side that started the Champions League final contained no Italian players (a separate issue, but worth touching on) and six players over 30 years of age. The entire matchday squad contained only two players under 26 - Mario Balotelli was sold that summer and MacDonald Mariga has spent the three subsequent seasons out on loan. This was a team that was for the here and now. It was successful, but it was spent. £130million had been shelled out in two years, but none of the seven players that Mourinho bought for £10million plus are still at the club.

Things haven't improved greatly since then, and last season Inter used eleven players in the league aged 30 or above - six of these will be 35 by the end of next season. An overhaul of the squad is clearly needed, but Mazzarri must be given time in order to achieve this. One of Inter's biggest issues has been the inability to move on ageing players and replace them with younger talent, and Juventus, Napoli and AC Milan have all done so far more effectively.

"Inter are a club who are obliged to return to winning ways, but this is a long-term goal and in the meantime the fans must be proud of a team that will never give up." The new coach is aware of the requirement for long-term planning at the San Siro. But the nagging question will always remain as to whether Inter's owner feels the same.

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