Inter have just come off a campaign where they have won everything. They have even added to that this season with the FIFA Club World Cup. Yet, strangely for a squad that is clearly able to compete with the best in Europe, the forthcoming summer transfer window (and indeed, the current January one) is huge for President Massimo Moratti in determining the competitiveness of the club over the next few years.
Put simply, they have an ageing squad. It is a criticism often levelled at city neighbours Milan, but if Inter do not start to make inroads into reducing the age of their team, it will be levelled at the Nerazzurri as well. Of the current set of players available to Leonardo, 10 are over the age of 30. Fortunately, a number of those players have either just crossed that barrier, or are only a year or so into it.
Go back three years to January 2008, and Milan were European champions having won the Champions League in 2007. Their squad was in a remarkably similar position to that of the current day Inter. They had a large collection of players over 30 years (more than Inter do now), but for most of those they were at an age where it was not a major issue at the time (the majority were between 30- and 32-years-old, again like the current Nerazzurri squad). The mistake that Milan made was to rest on their laurels. They had a group that was getting older, but instead of planning ahead and supplementing with younger blood to take over, they offered new contracts to many of the players and made no moves in the 2007 summer window.
The past three years, where Milan has struggled to stay competitive in both Serie A and the Champions League, are an indicator as to how flawed that approach was. Now the club finds itself in a position where they have to replace lots of players at the same time, an operation that is too big to conduct in the one window, and that means they have to stick by players approaching their mid-30s for a while longer. By comparison, after winning the Champions League in 2008, a better-prepared Manchester United were able to introduce a host of youngsters into their first team squad the following year, including Federico Macheda, Rafael and Fabio da Silva, Rodrigo Possebon and Darron Gibson.
From looking at the Milan sides’ respective records over the last three years, it is easy to see which method brings continued success, and Moratti would do well to learn from the mistakes made by the red half of Milan, and that means starting to plan ahead from now. The purchase of Andrea Ranocchia is a tremendous step in the right direction – although whether the age of their current central defenders (none are younger than 32, excluding the forgotten Nelson Rivas) was in his mind when he took this decision is difficult to tell. They are going to need at least one more centre-back – defence is the most problematic area in this regard, and if steps are not taken to safeguard its future then Moratti will find himself having to replace several centre-backs at once.
The rest of the squad does not need attention quite so urgently, but in time it will do. They already have a more even spread in terms of age of players than Milan did three years ago, and that will help enormously. The balancing act is to maintain the ability to compete, whilst ensuring the squad does not reach a situation akin to that of Milan. Judging by the Rossoneri’s experience, Moratti has three years to complete the overhaul.