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Inter Managing a Downturn

Paul Grech Wednesday, February 22, 2012 ,

As Giampiero Gasperini exited his Inter job after only three league games, the complaints were eerily familiar.  Even though he kept a dignified silence there were plenty eager to point out that Inter had not made available the kind of players capable of playing his favoured 3-4-3 formation.  His own tactical rigidity and the strange reluctance to play Giampaolo Pazzini precipitated his demise yet such an outcome had looked almost inevitable ever since the defeat against Milan in the Italian Super Cup.

Eight months earlier, Inter had parted ways with another manager in similar circumstances. Rafael Benitez may have lasted longer than Gasperini but he too was disillusioned by Inter's summer activity.  Benitez wanted to freshen up the squad with the kind of hard working flank players that he favours but was told that there wasn't any money available.

A couple of weeks after he left, they brought in Andrea Ranocchia, Giampaolo Pazzini, Houssine Kharja and Yuto Nagatomo.

It was arguably even worse for Gasperini.  For most of the summer he had to live with daily rumours about Wesley Sneijder's impending departure whilst days before the transfer window came to a close he saw Samuel Eto'o leave.  When reinforcements did come in the form of Diego Forlan, it was with the caveat that he couldn't play in the Champions League until next February because an appearance in the Europa League qualifiers with Atletico Madrid, something that the Inter management only picked up when it came to registering their Champions League squad. Hardly the ideal way to prepare for the new season.

And so it is that they've now turned to their fourth manager in fifteen months a statistic that raises interesting questions about what kind of planning is going on at the club.  Gasperini was appointed only after Inter failed in attempts to attract Guus Hiddink or Andre Villas Boas and, even so, his was an extremely surprising choice.  The only thing that qualified him for the job was his availability - he was out of a job - because otherwise he was a bad fit both tactically and in character.  Indeed, his past as coach at the Juventus primavera weighed heavily against him.

But Gasperini cannot be blamed for any of that.  The same, however, cannot be said of those who actually made the decision to go for him.

Whenever the argument about the validity of having a sporting director crops up, one of the arguments in favour is that it helps bring about continuity.  Not at Inter, however.  The people that were looked at as possible managers had widely differing outlooks making it look as if the search was a haphazard one fuelled by the hype behind each potential candidate rather than a deep seated belief that their philosophies would translate well to the squad Inter had.

Then again, Inter is a strange case.  Their sporting director, Piero Ausilio, is a virtual unknown who was promoted into the role last December having previously headed their youth academy.

Instead the man with the real power seems to be Marco Branca.  His is a particular story, that of a striker who managed to achieve more than his talent would suggest was capable.  Serie A winner with Sampdoria in 1991 he spent just over two years at Inter in the mid-nineties scoring twenty three goals in fifty two games.  Inter and Sampdoria were just two of the thirteen clubs he played for during his career, including an injury plagued spell at Middlesbrough.

Then in 2002, just months after he had retired from playing activity, Branca was suddenly appointed as head of Inter's scouts.  A few months later and he became their technical director and that is where he has stayed ever since.  It is unclear what qualified him for such a rapid rise.

Inevitably, however, Branca's role only came under scrutiny since Jose Mourinho left and results started going downhill.  Those who have come to his defence  point to his presumed role in building the multiple title winning squads for Roberto Mancini and Mourinho himself.  But this too is unclear.  At the time there was also club legend Gabriele Oriali who played a key role in player acquisition.  Tellingly, Oriali left Inter a few weeks after Mourinho, forced out after Benitez demanded that Amadeo Carboni be placed in his role.

It is impossible to say whether Inter would have been better had they retained Oriali.  Owner Massimo Moratti's determination to drastically cut back spending - last January's binge excluded - cannot be underplayed and the loyalty displayed to the players who won them the Champions League has led to an ageing squad of players who feel entitled to play.

Inter aren't the first club that has struggled with continuity and having dominated the Italian scene for half a decade, a period of transition was inevitable.  Whether those charged at ensuring that such a period is as short as possible are up to the task, however, remains to be seen.

This article originally appeared in the November - December 2011 issue of Late Tackle magazine.


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Copyright 2010 Paul Grech: Writer