Premier League clubs, take note. It seems that the key to revitilizing your squad involves hiring a manager whose resume doesn’t include a stint at a club that rhymes with Shiver Pull.
Such is it with Internazionale. The World Champions never got off the ground under Rafa Benitez. Even in this summer’s exhibition game in Toronto — against Greek champions Panathinaikos — the Milanese side lacked imagination and flow. By the end of 2010, Inter sat seventh — 13 points behind their rivals AC Milan, who are threatening to take away one of the trophies their crosstown rivals won in their treble season.
So out goes Rafa and in comes Milano legend Leonardo. Questions were raised in the Italian north whether the Brazilian could revive the tired and injured-riddled rivals of his former club. Those questions were put to rest within three minutes during today’s match against Napoli.
The game was riveting from the get-go, with the ball going end-to-end — the antithesis of stereotypes about Italian football. It was Thiago Motta who sparked the Inter revivial — finishing a Balkan sequence from Dejan Stankovic and Goran Pandev to put them up 1-0.
But Napoli are near the top of the table for a reason. A corner from Liverpool reject Andrea Dossena went straight into the box, and a brave Michele Pazienza stuck his head in, bringing the Neapolitans level.
Fast forward to the 33rd minute when Diego Milito flubbed a wide cross in front of the net, sending the ball sailing over the crossbar. But less than a minute later, Inter were back in the box and Esteban Cambiasso made no mistake. The unmarked Argentine raced in and took a remarkable cross from Maicon in the far corner and converted. 2-1 Inter Milan.
It should be worth noting how Maicon seemed to drive the team forward. The powerful Brazilian seems to have recovered from injury and awakened from his slumber in the first half of the season. The fullback was a constant threat on the right, finding the ball wide and providing service for Inter’s attackers.
But it was Motta who provided the book-ends for Leonardo’s first win in charge. The former Barca man found the end of Pandev’s corner kick in the 55th, sealing victory for the Nerazzurri.
Massimo Moratti says he considered hiring Leonardo in June, but eventually settled on Benitez. You can bet that English clubs like Liverpool, Aston Villa and West Ham have also spent the last six months regretting their choice of manager. All three clubs may yet pull an Inter before the month is through.