It took five matches for Internazionale to fire Gian Piero Gasperini… the fifth manager to leave the club in three years. But only in the world of sport does a organization hire its leaders from a steady pool of failures.
The rumours are that Claudio “The Tinkerman” Ranieri has been given a two-year contract to take over from Gasperini. No stranger to football’s revolving door, Ranieri has managed 10 teams over the last 20 years; this will be his seventh Serie A club. In that time, he has only won two major trophies: a Coppa Italia with Fiorentina… and a Copa del Rey with Valencia. Yet this is the man who has allegedly been chosen to lead one of the biggest clubs in the world.
Inter fans and management must be perturbed that their recent domination of Italian football has come to a jarring and screeching halt. Long known as “the other Milanese club”, i Nerazzurri shook off its inferiority complex by winning five consecutive Serie A titles under Roberto Mancini and José Mourinho, topping off the run by winning the quadruple: the league title, the Coppa Italia, the Supercoppa, as well as being crowned both European and world champions… defeating mighty Barcelona along the way. Life was good for Inter Milan. Then Rafael Benitez arrived.
Sure, Rafa led them to a World Club Championship. But they did it by beating club teams from South Korea and the Congo… one of the poorest nations in the world. Not so fast, cry Inter fans. They beat the world’s best to get there. But Rafa’s infernal reputation of maniacal stubbornness is well deserved, and it didn’t sit well with the club’s superstars. By Christmas, Inter would be down by 11 points from their San Siro rivals and Benitez was shown the door. He has yet to manage in a single match since.
While not a bad choice, the Spaniard’s replacement was perhaps difficult for Inter fans to accept. Not only did Leonardo play over a hundred matches for hated AC… he was also part of the Brazilian team that beat Italy at the Rose Bowl in 1994. No matter: the new gaffer lead Inter on a run that pulled them to the brink of another championship. But in the end, the club failed to defend the league, and were laughed out of Europe by a mediocre German side. While Inter managed to hold onto the Coppa, the writing was on the wall. Leonardo left Italy for the bright lights — and a big pay cheque — in Paris.
Enter Gasparini and an immediate cloud of suspicion. Rumours abounded that the former Genoa gaffer was only chosen because others refused the job. Fabio Capello is still under contract to the England FA. Young Andres Villas-Boas snapped at the chance to manage Cha-ching! Chelsea, after only one season at Porto. Even Marcelo Bielsa followed up Chile’s impressive display at last year’s World Cup by signing up to manage the Spanish powerhouse… of Athletic Bilbao.
It all must have been secretly humiliating for owner Massimo Moratti. If it was, it only got worse as the season got underway. After succumbing to their hated rivals in the SuperCoppa, Inter emerged from the one-week players’ strike to lose to up-and-coming Palermo… one of the teams leading a Southern renaissance in Italian football. That was followed by a CL league loss (at home!) to Turkish side Trabzonspor, who weren’t even supposed to be there. A draw against Roma might have been acceptable, if it was not for a humiliating defeat Tuesday night to newly-promoted Novara. Gasperini uscita… Ranieri entri.
There are some — including the Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson — who argue that Moretti should never have hired Gasperini… not because he is a bad manager, but because his system doesn’t gel with Inter’s squad. Gasperini favours variations of 3-4-3. But at Inter, that meant using an ancient back-five of Samuel, Lucio, Maicon, Cambiasso and Zanetti as defensive anchors (the average age of the South Americans is 33). Gasperini let his fullbacks roam just behind the wingers, and the aforementioned central players like to play up-field…. leaving Inter vulnerable on the counter. Consequently, ball after ball has gone sailing over the heads of the defenders, with only an increasingly erratic Julio Cesar to stop it.
Offensively, the club is only marginally better off. The “Will He Leave, Won’t He Leave” speculation surrounding Wesley Sneijder had to have been a distraction, considering the Dutchman’s pivotal role in the formation. Plus, the fiasco signing of cup-tied Diego Forlan from Atletico Madrid is unforgivable. If you believe in omens, it does not portend well for The Big Grass Snake.
Obviously, the scudetto is still too young to start picking out trends. But with non-traditional leaders like Palermo, Napoli, Fiorentina and Udinese continuing where they left off last season, Inter may have to look deep within itself and try to decide what it needs to do to turn itself around. Ranieri will likely perturb players with his constant manipulation of the side, not unlike Benitez. We will see if The Tinkerman soothes or chafes raw egos at the club.
From my perspective, Inter fans can take solace in two things:
1) Super Sneijder and Forlan seem to be developing an understanding, despite the recent run of form. Both players were magnificent in South Africa, with Forlan leading what could be considered South America’s new powerhouse. If they can get service, look out.
2) AC Milan is only playing marginally better, stealing a draw last week against Barcelona in the CL. Italy’s axis of power may be shifting.