The final day of the Serie A season had a perfect ending for the Nerazzurri. The fifth Scudetto in a row was probably the hardest fought, albeit because of Inter’s inability to keep hold of their lead in January, but ultimately must feel like one of the most rewarding.
Siena did their part to keep things interesting, and when Roma went in at half time with a 2-0 lead over Chievo, Inter fans could have been forgiven for wondering if it was not meant to be. But Diego Milito’s goal in the 57th minute was enough to get Inter the win, and earn Inter a deserved Scudetto. It is one thing to win a title by a large gap, and it is another to win a title on the last day of the season. But it takes real strength of character to go from leading Serie A by a large margin, losing first place so close to the end of the season and then going on to lift lo Scudetto. When Roma took over top position, it would have been easy, and in some ways understandable, if Inter had taken their eyes off retaining the title and concentrated on the Champions League. After all, four titles in a row is a lot, but for a team as big as la Beneamata to not have reached a European Cup Final since 1971/72, that was a source of constant pain to the black and blue half of Milan. But somehow Jose Mourinho and his team managed to turn their form around, going from frustratingly inconsistent to the Inter we all remember, the team that is expected to win.
There have been some truly memorable moments from this domestic campaign, not least of which was the 4-0 thrashing of Milan back in August. Result aside, the most important moment of this match, and quite possibly of Inter’s whole season happened during these 90 minutes: the debut of Wesley Sneijder. Everyone who had watched the Dutchman – aside from Florentino Perez, apparently – knew of his great quality. Adept with both feet, intelligent in possession and with a passing range as good as any player in the world, Sneijder filled the much-needed creative hole that had appeared in the Nerazzurri midfield. Because for all their qualities, the midfield that was currently in place contributed at least as much with their effort than they with their quality – Dejan Stankovic on a good day was possibly the only exception.
Once Mourinho had put Sneijder in the team, things began to look more promising for Inter in Serie A. But the Champions League remained a seemingly impossible puzzle. Drawn in a tough group with Barcelona, Rubin Kazan and Dynamo Kiev, Inter looked poor throughout the group stage, and only secured qualification on the final match day. But once again, the team managed to turn it around, playing like a side that deserved to finally find themselves in the knockout stage. Credit for this has to go to Mourinho, who changed to a 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation that enhanced the strengths of his side and exaggerated the weaknesses in opposing sides. But, fair is fair, and the other man that deserves his small share of credit for this is Claudio Lotito. The Lazio owners crazy persecution of Goran Pandev drove the Macedonian to get his contract dissolved, with Mourinho and the Nerazzurri waiting to welcome him with open arms. Getting a player of Pandev’s quality is always a cause for celebration, but to get one for free is a near-miracle.
The high points of the season for Inter have to be the two wins over Chelsea and Barcelona in the Quarter and Semi-finals of the Champions League. These two victories showed that Inter had finally become the side we all hoped for, one capable of not only stifling but also outplaying any team in Europe. For the most part, both victories were near flawless, with only a few gripes from the opposition in each tie. Whilst Chelsea fans will complain about the penalty that could have been at the Giuseppe Meazza, they can have no complaints about the way that they were beaten at Stamford Bridge in the return leg. Now only the final against Bayern Munich remains, and regardless of whether Inter emerge as the victors, the European campaign has to be seen as a huge success after the poor performances in recent seasons. However, one suspects that finishing second is not what Mourinho and his team have in mind, and the tactical battle between football’s two most arrogant managers in Mourinho and Louis Van Gaal should be enthralling.
A tribute to how well Inter have played this season is in how difficult the task of picking a player of the season would be. Wesley Sneijder is the obvious first choice, because it was his addition to the team that made the difference, but that does not give credit to the others that have excelled in black and blue. Diego Milito has been incredible, and 22 goals in your first season at a new club is an excellent record. Javier Zanetti has had another season where his consistency has put every other player to shame, having only a handful of games where he hasn’t been on his very best form. But in a way this has always been il Trattore’s problem: he is so good so often that people don’t comment on it, they just expect it. Esteban Cambiasso has also been very good, and it does no harm to reiterate the fact that the omission of both Cambiasso and Zanetti from Argentina’s World Cup squad is ridiculous. At the back, Douglas Maicon has had a brilliant second half of the season after struggling to find his form early on, and the pairing of Walter Samuel and Lucio is probably the best centre-back tandem in Europe at the moment. Last, but by no means least, high praise must be given to Julio Cesar is for making some people give a second thought whether Gianluigi Buffon is still the best goalkeeper in Serie A.
Finally, the one question that remains for Inter fans concerns the future of the Coach. Jose Mourinho has made it very clear that he finds life in Italy difficult, and with Real Madrid lurking, may well quit Inter after the Champions League final. What he has managed to achieve at the club this season is remarkable, especially after the team’s start to the season was so inconsistent that many – including this writer – questioned whether he was the right man to lead la Beneamata onwards. Of course, Mourinho’s future and the club’s success are not inextricably linked. There is no reason to believe that another manager cannot come in and take the team further, but with the bond between the players and the Coach being so strong and the relationship working so well, no Interista will want to see ‘The Special One’ leave.
This season has been a season of resurgence for Calcio, with its teams starting to win back the respect that had been lost in recent years. Let’s hope that this summer brings Italian fans more to be happy about with a strong Azzurri performance at the World Cup. Forza Inter. Forza Italia.