The San Siro Circus
Milan is a city divided. As we all know, the city is divided between two giants of European football: AC Milan and Internazionale. But the fortunes of both clubs couldn't be more dissimilar at the moment either. While the Rossoneri sit on top of the league and look set to retain their Serie A crown, Inter have been in a downward spiral for two seasons now with no immediate remedy forthcoming. Indeed the Nerazzurri have resembled more of a circus this season than a football club, with president Moratti – not adverse to chopping-and-changing – wielding the managerial axe twice in just over six months.
Claudio Ranieri becomes the latest victim of Signor Moratti's itchy trigger finger; his successor, Andrea Stramaccioni, is now Inter's fifth manager since 2010. Who would've predicted such chaos after the glory of 2010? Jose Mourinho had just guided the Nerazzurri to an unprecedented treble – the first Italian team to achieve such a feat – winning the Coppa Italia, a fifth league title in a row and defeating Bayern Munich in the Champions League Final in Madrid. However this glorious chapter in the clubs history was closed as Mourinho left citing his desire to coach Real Madrid following the Champions League Final – although it is speculated that he wanted out of Italy because of his treatment by the media.
Rafael Benitez took charge of the team after Mourinho left but would only last until Christmas. Benitez's reign wasn't a disaster by any means as they capped a superb year by claiming the FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi. But performances in Serie A had left Inter off the pace for the title and Benitez was sacked before the year was out.
Leonardo was hired to replace Benitez. It was a controversial appointment as Leonardo was a former player, technical director and manager at Inter's city rivals Milan. Leonardo's tenure started exceptionally as the team set a new Italian record with a streak of 33 points obtained from 13 matches. The stats show that Leonardo was the most successful of the post-Mourinho coaches and he would revive the Nerazzurri's league season – although they could only manage to finish second – and won the Coppa Italia. Leonardo's time at Inter was not always rosy though. He utilised a gung-ho style of attacking play and Inter's once impermeable defence often leaked goals at times. This was most noticeable during the Champions League Quarter Finals against Schalke 04 where Inter defended naively and disorderly and crashed to a 5-2 defeat to the Germans. Leonardo quit Inter in the summer of 2011 to take the role of general manager at his former club Paris Saint German having decided that coaching was not something he wanted to pursue further.
Leonardo's successor was 53-year-old former Genoa coach Gian Piero Gasperini but his appointment proved a catastrophe. Not the first choice, Gasperini inherited an ageing side and one without the services of it's previous seasons top goal scorer, Samuel Eto'o, who was sold to Anzhi Makhachkala. Following a run of five games and no victories – including four defeats – in all competitions Gasperini was sacked, three months after taking charge. One of the main criticisms levelled at Gasperini was that he tried to enforce a system on Inter that was incompatible to their style: the ‘3-4-3 formation'.
Inter quickly hired the experienced Ranieri to turn things around. Initially, the tinckerman did just that, going from 17th place to within reach of the European qualification places. Before Christmas Inter began a seven game winning streak that culminated in a win against their rivals in the Derby della Madonnina. But then, all of a sudden the Nerazzurri entered a sequence where they didn't win a game for seven matches. Just as they looked to have recovered with a win at Chievo, they were knocked out of the Champions League by Marseille. This period sums up Inter's season; their topsy-turvy form is, at times, almost comical.
Moratti finally lost patience with Ranieri after last week's loss in the Derby d'Italia against Juventus. The surprise appointment of Stramaccioni came only 24 hours after he'd led the Primavera to victory in the NextGen Series against Ajax in London (Moratti was among the audience). It's not clear whether the appointment is short-term until the club can find a more established name; or whether Inter will stick with their new man to see if he has a Guardiola-like effect.
Whatever the plan, the manager must look at the real problems this season: a group of ageing players past their prime; that certain signings, like Gianpaolo Pazzini and Mauro Zarate, have not been performing; and that their playmaker, Wesley Sneijder, has been off the pace due to injuries and speculation about his future. It could be interesting to see how well Stramaccioni does. Would Inter keep him on if he does well for next season? Or is he merely a stop gap until Andrea Villas Boas arrives, as many have speculated? The club certainly needs to rebuild and get rid of some of the dead wood at the club but at the moment it's hard to predict what will happen, if this crazy season is anything to go by.