Massimo Moratti seems to be developing a penchant for the Iberian Peninsula, as no sooner had Jose Morinho’s plane touched down in Madrid; the Inter President was busying himself in finding a replacement, this would ultimately result in the appointment of Rafael Benitez.
The “Portuguese man o war” had delivered four trophies in his short spell and a replacement would not be easy to come by, Fabio Capello, Roy Hodgson and Guus Hiddink were all quickly linked and all just as quickly dismissed for contractual reasons or that their CV was lacking. For Moratti, Benitez was the ideal candidate as not only had he just parted company with Liverpool after six years but he had a Champions League win under his belt and had reached a second final two years later. This meant that the Spaniard could be installed immediately and despite the raised eye brows from England this looked like a good appointment in Italy as not only had he achieved much at Liverpool but his record at Valencia included two Spanish titles and a UEFA Cup triumph.
Rafael Benitez started his new era with the Nerazzurri by distancing himself from Mourinho: “He has done a great job. I am different. I like to win and to play good football. If I am here I think that it’s because I am intelligent.” The comments were positive showing that Benitez is not trying to emulate the ‘Special one’ but instead wants to achieve the same honours but this time with style. This will not be easy as many have tried to do this before him and failed, the difference now however, is that he inherits a squad of quality players with a winning mentality and should he just tweak the squad with injections of quality, the formula may end up just right. When quizzed on formations and whether he would stick with the tried and tested 4-2-3-1 Benitez replied: “The team is the most important thing. Changing everything wouldn’t be intelligent. If something worked well, we can continue with it.”
For those Inter faithful who have watched Liverpool’s development under Benitez the one major concern maybe that of his ability in the transfer market. Despite acquisitions like Fernando Torres, Javier Mascherano and many more exceptional players, he has also brought in what could be described as ‘dead wood’. Big money spending on Robbie Keane, Andrea Dossena, and the still debated Ryan Babel are but some of his misses in the market. However, it has to be said that all good managers do from time to time sign players who do not make the grade and Benitez’s flaws were only brought to the attention of the public in light of Liverpool’s last disastrous season, why else would Liverpool recently have signed him up on such a lucrative long term deal. He has outlined his transfer strategy for Inter as La Gazzetta dello Sport understands that Benitez and Amedeo Carboni and Inter’s chief technical director Marco Branca have looked at the market and decided on an approach. Benitez has only requested one player, Javier Mascherano his trusted center midfielder from Liverpool who would be of use in the midfield of any Europe’s elite clubs. Branca is has been reported to want an attacking midfielder and a striker with Palermo’s attacking duo Javier Pastore and Edinson Cavani topping their list. Werder Bremen’s Mesut Ozil has also been identified as a possible target.
Benitez’s first signing was more low key as Luca Castellazzi joined on a two year deal from Sampdoria. The 34 year old is set be the under study for Julio Cesar next season and could be a solid second choice with Francesco Toldo who is now 38 being linked with a directors role at Inter. Diego Milito is ready for contract talks with his agent insisting he is set to stay in Milan, however, this may not be the case for Douglas Maicon who is reported to be chasing a ‘dream move’ to Madrid despite Inter’s want to keep him. These two issues however, along with further signings will have to wait until after the World Cup.
Next season will be a test for Inter and questions will be asked of whether this team has peaked, or if their dominance in Serie A will be coupled with a second European triumph. Moratti has certainly appointed his coach based on his ability to win the Champions League again, but Benitez must not forget that this is Serie A, that every game is a must win, every objective now for Inter this has to be achieved, that victory has become the stable diet of the team and nothing less will be tolerated. Benitez will be given the right tools to do the job and he already has the material, the rest is up to him.