Enigmas in Calcio – Massimo Moratti

“I think this Scudetto is Massimo Moratti’s after all the games and suffering he endured as a fan and as the President of this club.” Inter board member Marco Tronchetti Provera beamed on the day Inter clinched their fourth consecutive Scudetto on Saturday night when Milan lost to Udinese.

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Massimo Moratti, the 64-year-old billionaire and owner of Inter was often regarded as a failure in the eyes of Inter fans for having never won some much-coveted titles during his ownership and presidency. It was not until the Calciopoli scandal in 2006 did Inter begin to bring home the trophies. Moratti claimed that his team’s honest approach to football is what handed them Juventus’ stripped Scudetto and the subsequent league titles. Whilst many may doubt the club’s actual honesty in the scandal, few can deny the love this oil mogul has for his team. Famed for his impatience and his grand love for Inter, he is often referred to as the gentleman of calcio. Ultimately, it was his very love for the team that brought about their downfall until recent times.

Burdened by his father Angelo Moratti’s legacy, Massimo desperately sought quick results and was not interested in a long term project. With impatience being his only vice, he invested too little in youth, preferring to buy readymade footballing sensations, and dismissed Coaches who did not achieve the immediate required results. Under his ownership, Inter saw 13 different Coaches attempting to guide them to the helm of Serie A (including Roy Hodgson and Luciano Castellini both having two spells at the helm), Jose Mourinho being the last. A perfect example of his impulsiveness is when Luigi Simoni was outrageously dismissed following only a few matches in the 1998/99 season after having just won the Italian Manager of the Year award in 1998. That year saw the reigns handed over to a further three Coaches with Inter only managing to secure the 8th place in the league. For the team to succeed, they needed a figurehead to unite the playing staff and remain with the side throughout to ensure stability and build on their success slowly, much like Arsene Wenger of Arsenal.

Unlike the Agnellis of Juve who entrusted their Coaches and coaching staff with both the handling of the club and the undertaking of transfer dealings, Moratti wanted to do it all. Like a father to a newborn child, Moratti believed that he knew best when it came to his beloved Inter and never trusted anyone implicitly with the duty of guiding them forward. He would purchase renowned footballers for obscene amounts of money, publicly state how and where they should be played and then sack the Coach who fails to bring home the trophy in accordance to his wishes. What Moratti neglected to understand is that he was not a Tactician nor was he an expert.

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The only people Moratti ever had patience for, albeit a little, were his players, possibly the only ones who did not deserve this virtue. Ronaldo, or Fenomeno as he has come to be known, joined Inter in 1997. He played his part for Inter before suffering a major injury in 1999 that kept him out for the best part of the following seasons. Moratti supported and embraced him throughout the traumatic time for the player but two operations and hundreds of hours in rehabilitation later, Ronaldo duly departed to pastures new and became a sensation once again with Real Madrid. “I will remain with Moratti forever,” Ronaldo once pledged. Forever turned out to be just until he would be fit again. Where did that leave Moratti? Wondering why he spent all that money on wages and medical bills without reaping any of the rewards.

And then there was Nwankwo Kanu, the highly decorated African footballer who was purchased in 1996. Almost immediately after his arrival, Kanu was diagnosed with a serious heart condition that meant he hardly featured for the Nerazzurri. Yet again, Moratti spent his money and the club’s time on a player plagued with medical issues. After regaining his health, Kanu left Moratti for Arsenal, having only made 11 appearances for Inter. Kanu affectionately referred to Moratti as “my Italian father.” Despite the African’s affection for the President, it proved meaningless in guaranteeing his loyalty to Inter.

Moratti was always loved and greatly respected by his players who served under him, so one must speculate as to the reasons why he was often betrayed by these very stars. The biggest criticism ever made of the Inter owner was his behaviour when it came to the transfer market. Like a kid in a toy store, Moratti always wanted to buy the newest and shiniest toy on sale. He was never content with what he had and once a new toy was in fashion, then he just had to have it. This type of conduct was always going to unnerve his players as they never knew when they would be upgraded for the latest model especially when he would buy numerous players for the same position. In his haste to emulate his father’s success with the Grande Inter of the sixties, Moratti would purchase players more like a fan and less like a businessman.

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Upon reflection on the amount he spent on bolstering his squad, Moratti once said: “There have been times when I have come back to my house at night after having spent 20, 30 or 40 millions of Euros on a player and wondered whether I have done the right thing,” he mused. “At first I am convinced by the necessity and determination of the cause. But then the doubts start to creep in and I put all the cards on the table and I start to wonder whether maybe I have made a mistake.” With dozens of high profile egos in one dressing room, it proved difficult to create a winning team as no-one was willing to sacrifice their personal glory. Perhaps that is the reason why certain players, such as Andrea Pirlo, were unable to realise their potential at Inter but succeeded elsewhere whilst others remained true enigmas. Or perhaps with an ever-changing squad and list of Coaches, no player ever felt the true value of the Nerazzurri shirt and the history attached to it.

Despite Moratti’s fervour and the £300 million or so he spent in the transfer markets, he has never been a favourite with the Inter fans having experienced great failure in achieving both the Scudetto and the Champions League trophy much to their rivals’ delight. In 2004 and in accordance with fans’ protests, Moratti relinquished his role as President to the much loved Inter left fullback Giacinto Facchetti but it was not enough. In April 2006 and in response to the ultras’ stern message outside the Inter office calling for Moratti to leave, the owner sensationally claimed that he would consider selling his club to someone who would be able to lead the team back to glory. “If there is someone who can do better than I have and has the desire to commit themselves why should I be opposed?” he publicly stated.

His willingness to leave proved the worth of this man. Very few characters admit their failures and even fewer concede that there may be others better suited to the role. His acceptance of his inadequacy as the leader of Inter is the perfect illustration of an enlightened man who simply wants what is best for his team. Regardless of his efforts, he understood that he was required to put the needs of the Nerazzurri before his own. Yet before he even had the chance to look over any proposals, the match fixing scandal reached fever pitch and Inter was gifted it’s first Scudetto under his ownership.

Moratti’s luck has certainly changed now as Inter laughed their way to the top of Serie A this season, for the third year in a row. Many would argue that Moratti has finally found his way. However, Inter still failed in the Champions League and due to the Calciopoli scandal, are still not playing against fully adjusted and developed rivals. Milan’s players spent most of their campaign injury ridden and Juventus has an average squad who do not compare to the teams they have had in previous years. So in comparison, is Inter really that good or are their rivals just too bad?

Regardless of the state of current rivals, Moratti has certainly earned the right to celebrate his team’s success. If he could only learn to trust the Coaches more with the task at hand, invest in the development of younger players (as he has done with Mario Balotelli) and love the club a little less, then Juve and Milan have a serious rival to contend with.

“When love is in excess it brings a man no honour nor worthiness.” Euripides – the Greek Playwright.


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