The return of a European Monster? Roberto Mancini’s new project is taking off…
For too long Serie A has been shelved by the European minded football fan as a viable source of cathartic interest. Juventus have ramped four straight Scudetto’s with a dominant ease that’s made the title race as predictable as it has been boring, transfer fees and player quality has dwindled as the result of a minor Italian-soccer based recession while continuous corruption claims dog the integrity of the Italian package as a whole.
But Roberto Mancini’s sentimental return to the helm of the San Siro looks to have inverted the Italian status quo, supplemented by an Indonesian businessman who’s intent on conforming to the rigours of financial fair play. Inter sit top of the league and look good for their start.
It’s worth remembering where Italian football was to truly appreciate the extent of it’s decline. At the turn of the century every record transfer signing was made by an Italian team, while through the nineties the Serie A clubs tended to the biggest footballing arenas in Europe, posing as the forefront of footballing-excellence. It was only in 2006 that the Italian national team won a ferocious World Cup in Germany, and sooner still Jose Mourinho’s elites gifted a highly commendable treble that lofted his status as perhaps the finest manager in the world. Juventus’ run to the Champions League Final last season was a moment of relish for the European neutrals who have grown tired of the consistent Spanish/German dominance, but whispers of debauched immorality still linger with corruption revelations still not fully put to bed.
Tactically, Mancini’s tinkered with Inter’s approach with an energetic and reactive transfer policy that looks to have finally stumbled upon a winning formula. Perhaps there shouldn’t be too much surprise at this for the man who insists he built the modern-day Manchester City team.
Mancini appears to have made a very conscious attempt to exchange midfield creativity for striking inspiration, and that has laid the foundations for an exodus of talented ball players. Mateo Kovacic has departed to Madrid for a hefty fee; Hernanes has headed to Juventus; Xherdan Shaqiri to Stoke, all replaced by a cohort of talented strikers; Stefan Jovetic, Ivan Peresic and Adam Ljajic. Replacing that midfield guile with some new found physicality and gore has brought the return of some good ol’ Italian pragmatism which has been as ugly as it has been effective. Felipe Melo’s showing a panache in midfield similar to the form that once won him a 25m Euro transfer to Juventus, Columbian Fredy Guarin goes from strength to strength while the decadent splash on Monaco’s Geoffrey Kondogbia has been an un-arguable success.
That midfield ‘three’ has provided an adequate shield for a new centre back partnership that’s performing well. Nemanja Vidic is out for six months with a hernia (you wouldn’t be called an idiot for saying this may be a blessing in disguise given his less than convincing form), allowing Jeison Murillo, Gary Medel and Miranda to form a competent defensive bond. One conceded in six will have Mancini licking his lips delightedly, a rearguard promising much for the season ahead, a basis for one goal wins.
Of course, the fundamentals now completely surround whether this project is sustainable. Inter look in good form in league terms, but it’s worth remembering Roma winning their first 10 games of the season a couple of years ago and still being pegged back by a rampaging Juventus. It’s difficult to take anything for granted, given the inconsistency of Juventus’ rivals and the consistency of Juventus themselves.
Fiscally, chairman Erick Thohir looks committed to a sensible approach, and Inter’s net spend was positive this summer, bankrolled by the sale of Kovacic. Principally, Inter have adopted a FFP approach called the ‘Inter formula’, acquiring players on two-year loan deals (Jovetic) with an option to buy at the end. That’s lessened the blow of their heavier outlays and kept things flowing, keeping figures in the black for the time being. While Thohir’s approach is refreshingly responsible, qualification back to the Champions League is absolutely paramount if they’re to truly rise from the proverbial ashes of yesteryear and continue on an upward trajectory. Moreover, James Horncastle’s analysis of Serie A’s finances concludes a precarious situation still largely exists, and risks of there being another ‘Parma’ downfall aren’t unfathomable.
There’s also the ‘what might have been’ with regards to Kovacic, who showed glimpses of potential to rise into a truly remarkable player. Did Inter blink too soon with his departure, like they did with Fabio Cannavaro, Denis Bergkamp, Alessandro Nesta, Andrea Pirlo and Coutinho?
It’s too early to say, but those times are-a-changing in southern Europe, and Mancini’s Inter could be the pioneering re-emerges of this gradual and profound transition.