San Siro side set for summer of contemplation and possible upheaval.
A rare Scudetto-less season will soon come to a conclusion for Internazionale.
For the majority of teams, one season with winning the league would not herald major changes throughout the club. But for a team so accustomed to winning Italy’s biggest prize, it may be time for those changes to be made.
This is a team that only a year ago was celebrating an unprecedented treble, under the guidance of Jose Mourinho. With ‘The Special One’ gone, Rafa Benitez was brought in as his high-profile replacement. A man who was 4 years shy of his last trophy, and believed to be on his way out of Liverpool anyway, it seemed a strange appointment.
So it proved. Come December, Massimo Moratti had had enough of Inter’s floundering, and wielded the axe. In came Leonardo, the former hero of city rivals AC. Another choice which was surprising, given his history with the Rossoneri, has proved to be a stabilising presence and a regime which brings fresh hope for the future.
End of an Era
One of Leonardo’s major decisions over the summer will rest on what he decides is best for some of the club’s aging stars. Marco Materazzi, Ivan Cordoba, and even the club legend Javier Zanetti must have their places in the squad re-assessed. Paolo Orlandoni will surely be out of the exit door, having played only 4 league games since joining from Piacenza in 2005. Young Slovenian stopper Vid Belec is a more than capable 3rd-choice.
Questions will also be raised over Dejan Stankovic and Diego Milito. Stankovic has become synonymous with the club since joining from Lazio in 2003, but the game appears to be catching up with the 32 year-old, who doesn’t appear to have the legs to run the midfield like he once did.
Milito was the catalyst to last season’s success. He notched over twenty-two goals in his debut season, following his move from Genoa. However, the signing of Giampaolo Pazzini in January and Leonardo’s preference for Goran Pandev and Samuel Eto’o in central roles, has seen the striker pushed out of the starting XI. He scored just 5 goals this Serie A campaign, of which some can be attributed to his injuries, but mainly down to the change of system.
However, Leonardo won’t find the solution by shipping out all the old heads. He will need to keep the likes of Lucio and Walter Samuel around, still top quality players in their own right, to guide people like Andrea Ranocchia into regular top-level football. Ranocchia has struggled since making the move from Genoa, evidenced by Pato’s dismantling of him in the recent Milan derby.
So what of the potential new men to grace the blue and black? It would appear so far, that Leonardo favours scouring the domestic market for new players, as his January signings of Pazzini (Sampdoria), Ranocchia, Kharja (both Genoa) and Nagatomo (Cesena) indicate.
If he sticks to his guns, there are no shortage of options in the Serie A market. Central midfielders are in abundance in Italy, and many of them could stake a claim for a place in the Inter side.
Riccardo Montolivo is just one name. An energetic midfielder, who is comfortable getting back and forward with equal ease, would fit Inter’s mantra of attacking flair combined with solid defence. He is also an Italian international, which aids with UEFA’s home-grown quota for the Champions League.
Daniele de Rossi could be the lucrative and big-name target. A Roma team that is struggling to compete financially in Serie A, may be forced to sell up if the offer from Inter is too good. De Rossi would love the opportunity to win silverware at the Giuseppe Meazza, and his quality on the ball is unquestioned.
An intriguing possibility could lie with Palermo’s Javier Pastore. The young Argentine snook into Diego Maradona’s World Cup squad, and his playmaking ability would certainly entice Leonardo. The only question would be whether already having Sneijder in the squad, means they already have their own playmaker.
Challenges for the Future
With AC Milan’s resurgence this season, the bitter rivalry is once again established at the top of Serie A. Plus, with Allegri luring Philippe Mexes and Taye Taiwo to the red side of Milan, they appear to be here to stay.
The challenge for Inter is to build a squad that is capable of standing up to the challenges at the top long-term. AC seem to be combining younger players with quality, proven stars really well, and this is the new challenge for Leonardo. Not to mention, rising forces like Palermo and Napoli, that could have a shout in the title race sooner rather than later.
Promising younger players like Davide Santon (on loan at Cesena), Luca Caldirola (on loan at Vitesse) and Lorenzo Crisetig could be pushing for first-team places in the not too distant future. Given that most of Inter’s senior figures occupy defensive roles, Santon and Caldirola could break through this coming season.
One thing is for sure: the Nerazzurri cannot simply expect dominance anymore.