Last Saturday the Inter players and staff stayed up long into the night to toast winning the Scudetto. The celebrations didn’t affect their performance too much the following night during an entertaining 3-0 victory over Siena, however the hangover did come – a week later during a trip to Sardinia to face Cagliari.
The game was largely inconsequential with the Nerazzurri having wrapped up the league and the Rossoblu comfortably tucked away in mid-table. A glorious summers day pre-empted a relaxed game with plenty of chances for both sides. Jose Mourinho chose to rotate his ample squad, resting a few weary limbs and giving starting opportunities to Francesco Toldo, Nicolas Burdisso, Francesco Bolzoni, Luis Jimenez and Julio Cruz. The changes to the cast list didn’t alter the story line, initially, and a familiar narrative looked to be unfolding when Zlatan Ibrahimovic took centre stage to score another magnificent solo goal after just seven minutes, eluding a trail of Cagliari defenders before rifling low past Federico Marchetti in goal. The strike was the Swedish star’s 23rd of the league campaign, pulling himself back level with Marco Di Vaio in the hunt for the Capocannoniere.
All seemed to be going according to script for the newly crowned champions until Andrea Cossu levelled for the Isolani after fine work by Daniele Conti. All that was needed now was an intriguing sub-plot to conclude the piece, and right on cue, Robert Acquafresca – owned by Inter – popped up to score the winner against his parent club. A fine piece of theatre.
A couple of rungs down the acting hierarchy from ‘fine theatre’ comes ‘soap opera’ and if anyone were ever to make a soap opera based on football – a sort of El Dorado with a ball – then one episode could revolve around an extremely wealthy Spanish businessman with a political background, who is an ex – but soon to be again – President of a famous football club. Florentino Perez is intent on taking over the world and has decided he needs to seduce a suave, sophisticated, yet slightly egotistical Portuguese Coach, who would flirtatiously welcome and then unwelcome the advances of the said Spanish President, before committing his not-so-undying love for his current partner.
All of which sounds slightly preposterous until you realise that these two characters do actually exist in the form of Perez and Jose Mourinho. Reports suggest that Perez, who is hot favourite to regain the Real Madrid presidency, has identified Mourinho as the man to take over the managerial reigns at the Bernabeu. The existence of a clause in Mourinho’s contract which allows him to leave during his first season for a fee of £6m has only heightened speculation, as did Mourinho’s cryptic comments about his future: “I am 99.9 per cent sure I’ll stay on the Inter bench. It is honest to say Real Madrid are a little tempting. I made a mistake in the past when I said I was 100 per cent sure, as there is always a 0.1 per cent that is in the hands of fate.” Mourinho has made no secret of his desire to manage in La Liga, where he has previously worked as an assistant at Barcelona. The speculation was almost inevitable given the parties involved, with Perez keen to show his intentions for Madrid by targeting the best in the business. Mourinho too can also be reluctant to play down gossip, especially when it may benefit him. Mourinho is no fool and knew full well that the interest from Madrid could be used as a bargaining tool by himself to earn a new contract, but also solidify his grip and control of all aspects of running Inter.
First has come the new contract. Extended to June 2012 with a pay rise taking his annual salary to an estimated £10m a year: “This is in response to the Coach’s wish to continue the project we started together – a desire that has been welcomed by the club as a sign of dedication and a winning spirit.” The threat from Real Madrid, although speculative, would not have been idle. Inter, Massimo Moratti and Mourinho knew this and the subsequent contract and statement indicate that all is well for la Benemeata. Inter and Moratti keep their man, whilst Jose gets the control he so much craves.
The Portuguese Coach was not the only person agreeing new deals this week, as a number of player transfers, both in and outbound were completed, or about to be completed. Relations between the Nerazzurri and Genoa continue to grow, as the duo has conducted a variety of player swap deals which couldn’t have been done with any less animosity had they been done with Panini stickers in the playground. First in were long time Inter targets Diego Milito and Thiago Motta, although Genoa do receive Robert Acquafresca in return. Hernan Crespo’s contract is up this summer and he was due to sign for Fiorentina but a last-minute change of heart means he is now set for Genoa. Returning from an unsuccessful loan at Chelsea is Ricardo Quaresma, although he isn’t expected to be at the Giuseppe Meazza for long, with a loan move being arranged to…Genoa. The love-in isn’t expected to stop there, Genoa are anticipating to complete a deal for Estudiantes full-back Marcos Angeleri, fending off interest from a host of Spanish sides. The 26-year-old Argentinian is rumoured to be staying at the Luigi Ferraris until 2011 by which time he could be sold to Inter.
This week’s transfer rumours seem to be mainly concentrated on Mourinho raiding Chelsea for any combination of Ashley Cole, Ricardo Carvalho and/or Didier Drogba (again).
The end of another successful season for il Biscione arrives on Sunday with the final game of the season. Inter host Atalanta aiming to sign off Mourinho’s first season in style, although the Coach says he won’t be on the bench for the occasion, choosing instead to leave the honours to his trusted backroom staff of Daniele Bernazzani, Rui Faria and Silvio Louro: “This is not to disrespect Atalanta, but just the right way to give credit to those who work so hard during the week.” The dug-out may be missing one familiar face, but after this week and this season, nobody is in any doubt as to who’s boss at Inter.