Congratulations Internazionale, the champions of Italy. After ten long months, 36 games, blood, sweat and tears, the Nerazzurri have been crowned champions of Italy once again. It is the fourth season in succession Inter has proved to be the top club side in the peninsula, and perhaps more importantly, especially for the Interisti, this Scudetto brings the total won by the illustrious club to 17, drawing level with city rivals Milan.
Indeed it was due to the generosity of their not-so-friendly neighbours that il Biscione were able to celebrate the title late on Saturday evening at their Pinetina training complex – the Rossoneri losing away to Udinese, a result that meant it was mathematically impossible to overhaul their arch-rivals. An assembly of Inter players, coaches, backroom and technical staff huddled around televisions at their base to see goals from Gaetano D’Agostino and Cristian Zapata condemn il Diavolo to defeat, and finally end the futile pursuit of Jose Mourinho’s men.
The final whistle at the Stadio Friuli was met with joyous celebrations amongst the Inter entourage, which also included President Massimo Moratti on his 64th birthday. Any curfew’s usually set for match nights were lifted, presumably along with drinking bans as the champagne flowed and terrace song and dance resounded around HQ. The partying wasn’t just confined to Pinetina, with players clambering aboard an open-top bus and joining thousands of ecstatic fans in the Piazza del Duomo to further toast their latest success well into the early hours. Events eventually wound up at around 2am, allowing the newly crowned champions some much needed sleep ahead of Sunday’s visit of Siena, and a chance to savour the momentous occasion in front of a capacity crowd at the San Siro.
The Nerazzurri faithful illuminated the stadium with a superbly choreographed mosaic of the Inter club crest and displayed a variety of triumphant flags and banners, many of which highlighted the ’17’ achievement, whilst others offered a pointed reminder as to the success of Milan and Juventus this season – zero tituli. The team responded by producing an entertaining encounter, seeing off a spirited Siena side by three goals to nil thanks to efforts from unsung hero Esteban Cambiasso, and strikers Mario Balotelli and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – the Swede dispatching his 22nd league goal of the season to keep himself hot on the heals of Marco Di Vaio in the race for the Capocannoniere.
Post match and following a vibrant fireworks display to cap off the celebrations, it was time for Coach, Captain and President to reflect on yet another Italian championship. Jose Mourinho bore a satisfactory tone after earning a fifth domestic championship in his third different country: “This was a tournament in which I do not remember a single easy game and one where Milan and Juve were stronger than last season. It wasn’t easy to win on my first year in Italy. The best team wins in a league and I have always said that, both when I won and when I didn’t.”
Captain Javier Zanetti chose to reflect on the importance of the 17th Scudetto: “This title has immense value for us and a very special feel to it. It’s the fourth in a row and enters the history books.”
President Moratti was quick to praise Mourinho’s impact on the squad: “Mourinho helped them start from scratch on a psychological level, as it is not easy to win for a fourth straight title. He will invent something next year to get them hungry and raring to go.”
Even for the most ardent Beneamata critics, it is difficult for anybody to argue they did not deserve to win the league. For large parts of the season Inter failed to demonstrate the air of invincibility that the mantra of four-time champions would suggest, however they showed a level of consistency way beyond the capabilities of main challengers Milan and Juventus. Despite a fairly inauspicious start for Inter which yielded 18 points from a possible 27, Milan and Juve were never able to assert sufficient points or pressure to sustain a worthy championship assault. This, of course, was of no concern to Mourinho who ruddered his side through the occasional strong current to have the Scudetto effectively tied up by February. The one-sided nature of the championship is perhaps more of reflection of Milan and Juve’s failings than any unabated dominance from Inter. A point’s haul in the mid 80’s is by no means insurmountable, especially if the correct on and off field acquisitions are made by the Rossoneri and Bianconeri for 2009/10. Mourinho himself oversaw a 24-point swing when guiding Chelsea to the English Premier League in 2005, de-throning Arsenal who had gone through the previous campaign unbeaten.
Evolution though, is historically an easier proposition than revolution, and a man as shrewd as the Portuguese Tactician will already have identified deficiencies he wishes to address both in his first X1 and squad. The failings highlighted by the Nerazzurri’s Champions League showing cannot be papered over, and if Inter is to have any chance of succeeding in Europe, as well as staving of the likely resurgence from at least one of Milan or Juve, a number of personnel changes will be required, with the reduction in age of the squad paramount to any rebuilding.
Of the old guard, Luis Figo is the first to announce he will no longer be with il biscione next season. The former European and World Player of the Year has announced his retirement after four seasons at the Giuseppe Meazza. The 35-year-old winger who won 127 caps for Portugal in a glittering career which also saw him play for Sporting Lisbon, Barcelona and Real Madrid confirmed: “I will not play again at the highest level and I will most likely not accept any offer. This is the best way to end.” Meanwhile, Patrick Vieira has strongly hinted at a return to France, Hernan Crespo is wanted by Fiorentina and Julio Cruz’s contract is due to expire.
Transfer rumours will be plentiful throughout the summer, the pick of this week’s salacious gossip being that Thiago Motta, Fabio Quagliarella, Simon Kjaer, Nemanja Vidic and Robin van Persie are all Inter-bound. One deal which does looks to be close to conclusion is that of Diego Milito after Mourinho confirmed a deal for the Genoa front-man is almost done.
Opinion has been firmly divided as to the relative success of the self-proclaimed Special One during his first season in Serie A, and although the domestic stranglehold has been continued from Roberto Mancini’s reign, more will be expected next term and crucial to the development of the team will be the transfer dealings during the summer. Mourinho will be keen to sculpt a squad of his own desires, rather than be handed a collective of ageing pro’s. Given the autonomy to bring in his own players who fit into his system and style of play, Inter may well be a different proposition both home and abroad. If Mourinho is to fulfil his remit of bringing home the European Cup, the President must fulfil his obligation to support his Coach. Job done for this year, job only just begun for next.