For five years Inter were champions of Serie A, but now they have been deposed. Milan deservedly held aloft the Scudetto for the first time in seven years, however, across the city the mood in the Nerazzurri camp is not quite as sombre as one would have expected.
Inter’s season has seen so many twists and turns this campaign that it has almost been like watching a medium-budget Hollywood production. They have come nowhere near reaching the highs of last season’s treble, but neither have they sunk like a ship many expected to at one point. As Jose Mourinho bid a tearful farewell to Marco Materazzi after Inter’s triumph in the Champions League, an era had come to an end. This was not the Mourinho era alone, it was the realisation of a dream that the Massimo Moratti had invested vast amounts of his personal fortune in.
And it was in this dreamy phase, the season started and one of the season-defining mistakes was made in the hiring of Rafael Benitez. The same sepia toned period made Moratti to believe no major investment was needed in the team and led to an immediate disagreement with his new manager. Inter’s period with Benitez is probably best summed up by saying ‘it was just not meant to be’. Injuries mounted, player discontent increased, results deteriorated and the Coach became erratic. Benitez wanted to build his own squad and imbibe his own philosophy to the team, but he wasn’t given any help in terms of personnel and the ones at his disposal had their loyalties to the man who was now at Real Madrid.
This created a divide which ripped into Inter’s start to the season and at the half-way stage, the Nerazzurri suddenly looked half the team that had conquered all mere months before. The Club World Cup was an antidote but it was never going to be the cure to Benitez’s problems. His departure only began phase two of the season under Leonardo. The ex-Milan Coach took the Biscione by storm and he managed to paper over some of the cracks which were evident in his team and in his own tactical abilities. The win over Bayern Munich sent expectations to another level but one of the most disastrous weeks in the club’s history saw them lose to Milan and effectively bow out of Europe in a matter of seven days. Now, the Italian Cup remains.
Any Nerazzurri fan would have probably signed up for a second-place finish, an Italian Cup victory and a decent run in the Champions League after the incredible achievements of last year. But, it has been Inter’s manner of failure that has left many with a slightly bitter taste in their mouth. The Benitez era was a disaster thanks to both the manager and the management. But, even under Leonardo the team failed at decisive moments and made others realise that Inter were fallible. An ageing squad and injuries were undoubtedly the key factors, but it also showed up the inabilities of the team. The lack of creativity was highlighted, so was the poor back-up for defensive positions and equally the need for an injection of youth.
Leonardo’s appointment was never designed to win, it was meant to rescue. And the Brazilian has done very well in fulfilling that brief. He was caught out tactically by more experienced tacticians as seen against Udinese, Milan and Schalke, but he is also the reason why Inter won’t look at this as an utter failure of a season. Moratti and Branca made some vital signings in January of which Giampaolo Pazzini’s acquisition has reaped the best rewards. Andrea Ranocchia may yet shine given an opportunity of full pre-season training and working with the likes of Walter Samuel, whose injury was quite possibly the biggest reason why Inter leaked goals like a damaged water pipe. Yuto Nagatomo brought something to Inter that had been missing for the longest time, a pacey left-back. But, his sustainability throughout a campaign is yet questionable.
The best thing that has happened for Inter this season is that they have relinquished the title. It has made Moratti realize that his squad needs a spark if he plans to sustain their success levels from years past. Moves are being made to address this issue and Leonardo’s confirmation as Coach for next season is the first step towards ensuring a stable and developmental approach for the future.
Coach – Leonardo:
The Brazilian’s statistics fail to highlight his failures but they reflect handsomely on his success. Inter won every single home game in the league under him but when it really mattered they failed to deliver. He definitely needs to work on the tactical side of the game, but motivationally he is one of the best and knows how to get the most out of his team.
Player of the Season – Samuel Eto’o:
There are no other contenders for this honour as without him, Inter would have been a laughing stock for the first half of their season. He took on the responsibility of scoring and delivered, if he can continue in the same vein next season and with Pazzini along, Inter can feel secure.
Turning point – Milan 3-0 Inter:
This was the beginning of the end for Inter. They conceded in the opening minute and gradually lost the plot as the game unfolded. A win would have put them top, but they flopped and it was followed by an even worse performance against Schalke in the infamous 2-5 defeat.
Average starting XI
Maicon – Lúcio – Ranocchia – Chivu
Zanetti – Cambiasso – Thiago Motta
Pazzini – Eto’o