When things go wrong at a club the reasons for the failure are usually not difficult to ascertain. It is a poor manager or poor players, maybe the best ones are gone or maybe there is no money. Sometimes you get a mix of factors that lead to a grand club falling on tough times such as the remarkable decline of Leeds. Rarely do a club find itself in Inter Milan’s current position where there isn’t an accepted fall-guy to tow the line for the failure. In 10 short years Inter have gone from unassailable leaders of Serie A, racking up successive titles and winning the Champions League to middling Serie A also-rans who spend big but still seem to be just making up the numbers. Just how did this come to be for the one club to come out of the Calciopoli scandal years smelling of roses?
Calciopoli is a decade away and you could argue it was that scandal itself that set Inter up for their subsequent successes. Firstly, the 2005-2006 league title was awarded to Inter retrospectively due to the inherent cheating that Juventus, among others, had been found guilty of. If that league win seems a little devalued then they at least cemented their new number 1 status; they won a further four league titles on the bounce and, finally, under Jose Mourinho they captured the Champions League in 2010. This should have been the statement-making win that said ‘Il Grande Inter’ were back, albeit in a new modern form. Instead it was the nadir, the peak before the trough. Inter have not won a league title since then and the club has looked increasingly bereft of any sort of underlying policy or ‘football identity’ and despite big money Asian investment they continue to struggle to put out a side capable of challenging the best in Italy.
Mourinho himself gets the credit for that Champions League win and the historic treble but he was working off the very solid foundations that Roberto Mancini had laid down whilst he was in charge; winning one league title retrospectively off the field and two more with a swagger and dominance on it. Whilst Juventus were in the wilderness and AC Milan tried to put their house back in order there was nobody else to really challenge Inter. Unfortunately for Mancini once domestic dominance was confirmed it was the Champions League that became the albatross. They HAD to win it in the opinion of then-president Massimo Moratti and after something of a late collapse ended Champions League aspirations in 2008 it was decided to jettison a beleaguered Mancini and send for ‘The Special One’.
During Mourinho’s two year spell Inter won it all; two more league titles, an Italian cup and finally that European Cup trophy. The squad assembled to do so was vast and costly. Tens of millions were spent on players like Diego Milito who, at 29, was a signing just for the here and now. As many Mourinho signings are. There seems, in retrospect, a cavalier attitude to the assembly of this squad. Mourinho was allowed carte blanche in the transfer market as long as he delivered the goods.
Deliver he certainly did but as tear-soaked as his farewell in 2010 was the impression lingers that Mourinho knew himself that he had squeezed every last bit out of the players in his 2009-10 squad. Following that was a hiding to nothing. When Mourinho left for Real Madrid many mocked Rafael Benitez for making such a hideous job of taking over the reigning European Champions. In retrospect, he was just the first of many valiant pretenders who have tried, and failed, to take Inter back to the summit.
An ageing squad with a bloated wage budget and a number of seemingly perma-crocked players led to a slow cull of those big earners along with a scattergun signing policy that never seemed to have any clear idea behind it. By the time Moratti had spent more money disposing of Benitez it was clear the good ship Inter was rudderless and in danger of running aground.
In 2012 the football landscape had changed. In Europe the super-rich clubs were muscling the likes of Inter off the stage and at home a shiny new Juventus with a spanking new stadium were about to embark on a little period of dominance themselves. Moratti must have known the gig was up and he did what any sensible club owner does in such times; he reached out to some shady Asian investment consortia.
Erick Thohir and ‘International Sports Capital HK Ltd’ have been involved since 2013 having bought a 70% stake in the club. Moratti did give up the presidency but has been kept on in an ‘advisory’ role.
So they spent lots of money on players and went back to winning things and living happily ever after? Not quite. In truth Inter continued to struggle and whilst they had the means to now sign more expensive players and compete they lacked either the nous or scouting system to pick the right ones. The league table rarely lies and since that last Serie A in 2010 they have placed 2nd, 6th, 9th, 8th and 4th.
During that same timeframe there has been the equivalent of a small nations debt spent on various players and the following managers have had a go in the Inter hot seat; Benitez, Leonardo, Gian Piero Gasperini, Claudio Ranieri, Andrea Stromaccioni, Walter Mazzari, Roberto Mancini (again), Frank De Boer and current incumbent Stefano Pioli.
As with player signings there seems to be no clear plan; it’ s an eclectic mix of managers, each with their own system, style and preferred players. Some are suit men, some are tracksuit coaches, but all of them are victims of the Inter policy of flinging shit at the wall and hoping that something sticks. Then there is a change of minds, ripping up of books and then back to square one after 6 months or so. No manager can be expected to build anything at Inter Milan in its present state.
It is telling too that out of those subsequent rotten campaigns, only last year did Inter show anything other that regression. Roberto Mancini was back and whilst recapturing the title wasn’t feasible they finished 4th and looked at the very least to be organised and have a plan. It looked like there might be something there to build on.
Naturally Mancini was ‘mutually consented’ in summer 2016.
This season has been a mess again. Any sense of progress or forward motion has been lost. A good 20 minutes against Juventus and another good 20 against Fiorentina have been about the sum of the team’s progress. They have been poor in many games and have gone back to losing cheap goals and looking utterly powder-puff in the face of any real adversity. Results tell the tale of an inconsistent team that will, probably, finish back around mid table again this season. It seems that in spite all of Moratti’s experience and all Thohir’s money, between them they can’t quite seem to put Inter back together again.