Club Focus – Inter – Nerazzurri plan ahead, with or without Ibra

When compared to the recent shenanigans that have been occurring in and around Inter in recent weeks, this past seven days have been a relative calm. Much of that, naturally, is down to Coach José Mourinho for staying away from making any controversial remarks for what is possibly his longest period since he crossed the Italian borders. His main press action this week has been to demonstrate how little he cares about the rumours circulating that Roberto Mancini could return to the club following the Portuguese Tactician’s inability to take the club any further than the 2nd round of the Champions League.

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While it may not have any effect on the management, with President Massimo Moratti declaring that Mancini will not be returning to the club, it has certainly hit a nerve in Zlatan Ibrahimović’s considerable frame. The tall Swede is said to be “disappointed” at yet another early exit from Europe’s top club competition. Rather amusingly, Director Marco Branca claimed that it was simply “the sporting disappointment of a champion who really wanted to win the Champions League.” Amusing because quite frankly the former Ajax man has not once played like a champion in this competition. He had one solitary goal to show from eight games this campaign, and that from an incredibly weak group that included the likes of Greece’s Panathinaikos and Anorthosis Famagusta, who are from the football powerhouse that is Cyprus. Unfortunately, it smacks of a player who is throwing his dummy out of the pram, unaware that he shoulders just as much blame as the rest of his underperforming team-mates. Signs were around earlier in the season, when he made outrageous claims that he should be winning the Ballon d’Or, and it seems as if he feels the only way of doing that is to win the Champions League.

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In fact, the method to winning these trophies is to perform in the Champions League, and not hanging on to the coat-tails of a team who charge through to the final. Think Kaká, who dragged Milan kicking and screaming to victory in 2007. Alternatively, he could try and translate some of his Serie A form to the international stage, but then he rarely does that either. Unsurprisingly, various Spanish sources then linked the player with Barcelona after these comments had made their way around Europe. When asked about his future after Inter’s 3-0 victory over Reggina on Sunday, Ibrahimović responded with the ‘we’ll see at the end of the season’ answer – that old chestnut that basically means that it will depend on what clubs, if any, show an interest in him, and the Nerazzurri’s movements in the transfer market this summer.

To that end, he must be pleased with reports – although unconfirmed – that Moratti is preparing a mass spending spree in the summer to the tune of £100m. In the current economic climate, one would imagine that this sort of spending is unlikely. Yet an investment close to this figure is going to be needed to propel Inter to glory in Europe, a fact that has not passed the Special One. He claims that the club are possibly missing ‘a classic No.10’ to make the difference, and you can rest assured that player will not come cheap. What he did not mention was that the team also needs some goals from midfield. Dejan Stankovic currently tops their midfield scoring charts with a measly five (a tally matched by right-back Douglas Maicon) despite being ideally placed right behind the strikers in many matches, with Esteban Cambiasso next on three. The rest – Luis Figo, Patrick Vieira, Sulley Muntari, Amantino Mancini – have all only managed one each.

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In all likelihood, that £100m figure quoted will be a gross spend, with plenty of players leaving to fund it. The latest members of the squad to be linked with the exit door this week were Brazilian pair Maxwell and Adriano. Indeed, it could well be that the transfers of the two players are designed to make room for two home grown talents, Davide Santon and Mario Balotelli. Any possible destinations for the South American duo are unknown as yet, but if Maxwell’s agent is be believed, a move to city rivals Milan is tantalisingly close to being sealed for his client. If he does make the move, the unlucky Brazilian will join the long list of left-backs la Beneamata have despatched in the last 10 years – Roberto Carlos, Grigoris Georgatos, Francesco Coco, Jérémie Bréchet, Vratislav Gresko, Giovanni Pasquale (a rare product of their seemingly pointless youth academy), Giuseppe Favalli and Fabio Grosso. Some established names in that list, most of whom have furthered their careers after leaving.

Back to matters on the pitch and having cruised to another easy three points against bottom-of-the-table Reggina, Mourinho and his team are left with what seems to be the simple task of securing the Scudetto. The former-Porto Boss opted for a 4-2-3-1 system on Sunday, and was rewarded with one of the most effective attacking displays seen at the San Siro this season. Unfortunately, this same system has failed against better opposition earlier on in the campaign, leading to the inevitable conclusion that it only worked due to the fact they were up against a side that are the worst in the league by a distance. The problem that these better teams have exposed is the ease at which you can get through to Júlio César in the Inter goal, something which even the Calabria outfit managed on Sunday.

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Nevertheless, the seven point advantage they hold over second-placed Juventus should be more than enough. Their Coach, Claudio Ranieri, has admitted he feels that gap has to be closed by the time the Nerazzurri visit in Week 32. That gives them two games in which they need to hope Mourinho and his players slip up, and then they have to inflict only the third league defeat on the reigning champions. If that was not enough, a clean sheet and a win by a two goal margin (or more) are requisite to ensure the goal difference advantage Inter currently hold is redundant, meaning the Turin club can win if they are level on points come the end of the season. Finally, they would then require a further blip in the remaining six games after their meeting at the Olimpico di Torino from a team who have made precious few this year. For this to materialise, it would take a bigger wobble than the one on show towards the end of last season, where an Ibrahimović brace on the last day ensured a successful defence of their title.

Inter’s match on April 5 (after the international break), a trip to the Stadio Friuli, to face Udinese may prove a tricky test and possibly the game Ranieri is targeting as a chance to close the gap. It has not been a happy hunting ground for the big teams to date. Of those in the top 10, Lazio, Genoa, Palermo, Roma and Juventus have all visited and only Genoa has left with all three points. You would however, expect il Biscione, a team who ended Genoa’s unbeaten home record, to sweep the struggling Zebrette aside. With no distractions, a squad that is already the best in Italy can concentrate on the league each and every week, ensuring maximum rest and focus on games that might have otherwise turned out to be difficult with Europe in the thoughts of the Coach and players. As such, a 17th Scudetto title is not so much on the horizon, but in the middle ground.

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