It is one thing to succeed and entirely another to remain successful. A patch of incredibly favourable fortune, where things keep falling by your side, may earn instant success; but it takes some character, grit, diligence and determination to build an empire that in the longer run is pictured as an epitome of greatness in the respective field. In context of the Italian football, the domination of FC Internazionale in the domestic circuit for close to half a decade was not exactly perceived as meritorious, owing to the apparent atrophies the other two big players – Juventus and Milan – underwent during the years. However, the feat that was unprecedented in the history of Calcio, was eventually accomplished by the Inter juggernaut in the year 2010, becoming the first Italian team to win the domestic league, cup and the European cup in the same season to complete a historic treble. The fulcrum, around which this unit excelled, was undeniably Jose Mourinho and when the Portuguese decided to part ways with the club at the end of the season, the team was bound to meet several hiccups in maintaining the golden run.
Massimo Moratti has stood by Inter through the thick and thin and it was unanimously accepted that nobody valued the enormous success in the Mourinho era more than him. Filling the void, left by someone of Mourinho’s influence, was not the dream job anybody would have looked for but Moratti could not have afforded to let the team remain in the laurels of those years and generate complacency. However, the appointment of Rafael Benitez, as the successor of Mourinho, was one that horrendously backfired. Despite the squad largely remaining the same that limitlessly triumphed from one point to another, suddenly appeared short of steam and hunger. The team began to look alarmingly vulnerable and the squad was certainly not deep enough to experiment with tactics. Despite winning Italian Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup during his six-month long spell, Benitez had completely failed to adapt to the Italian idea of the game. The Spaniard could not readjust his tactics and training methodologies to suit to a new geography and had all but lost the dressing room, comprising the players, who were refusing to step out of the Mourinho memoirs. Moratti merely stated the obvious at the Christmas, by handing the marching orders over to the Spaniard and to the fury of the entire red half of the city, appointed Milan’s long time faithful Leonardo to take the sinking ship home.
Under the Brazilian’s doctrine, the Nerazzurri suddenly transformed into a rejuvenated unit altogether. With an immediate effect, their threat over the Scudetto was instantly acknowledged and pretty soon they could recapture their winning habit. At the continental level too, they fared reasonably well and entered the pool of last eight in the competition. However, despite the unimaginable revamp, they fell short on several accounts and the pedigree of players did not prove to be enough to replicate last season’s success. Players like Maicon and Thiago Motta could never find their usual self, while prolonged injuries to the likes of Walter Samuel and Diego Milito did not help the manager’s cause either.
As things stand today, Inter have already been denied a sixth straight Scudetto with Milan having already been declared champions. The European ambitions too took a giant hit at being humbled at home by German newbies Schalke 04. The only title Inter are still in contention is Coppa Italia, where they meet Sicilian outfit Palermo in the final, later this month. There is a string of factors that worked against the defending champions during the season and they’ve all been well documented multiple times. TheHardTackle takes a look at five decisive junctures that defined Inter’s dreadful season, where for the most part, a bunch of their players prototyped mediocrity.
Internazionale 0-2 Atletico Madrid (UEFA Super Cup)
Inter had already bagged one title in the Benitez incumbency beating Roma 3-1 in the Italian Super Cup. Only a week later the two European champions in the previous season at different tiers clashed in the city of Monaco on a humid, cloudy night. The Europa League champions Atletico Madrid were not reckoned favourites to outclass the Italians but were certainly no pushovers with the chief marksman Diego Forlan riding in the form of his life.
Benitez missed the trick by fielding a pretty narrow-shaped formation, denying Samuel Eto’o a chance to roam free up-front. With the old legs in the midfield failing to connect to the upper layers on the pitch, Inter could never poise any significant threat to their opponents, who chose to sit back and hit them on the counter. Goals from Argentine sensation Kun Aguero and former Arsenal and Real Madrid star Jose Antonio Reyes sealed the title for the Spanish team and denied Inter a chance to emulate FC Barcelona’s sextuple.
The season could not have begun with a worse possible start and never-mind a bit preposterously, but it did signal the nature of things to come.
Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Internazionale (UEFA Champions League Group Stage)
On the second of November, Benitez’s men, on their travel to England, met the North London outfit at the White Hart Lane. A Welsh dynamite called Gareth Bale, had only a week ago demolished the Inter defence at San Siro and almost sealed a point for his side, despite being a man and four goals down in the first half itself. Inter had barely avoided a humiliation and were under tremendous pressure going into this fixture. The intensity with which the Londoners began their trade was speaking volumes for their confidence. Gareth Bale once again steamrolled past the fragile looking Inter defence and outpaced and outclassed the Brazilian rock Douglas Maicon for fun.
Rafael van Der Vaart, Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko scored one apiece for the hosts and a piece of sheer brilliance from Samuel Eto’o could earn the Italians some consolation. The defeat proved to be a deciding factor in Inter eventually failing to win the group but more than that, it brutally exposed the shortcoming of their defence – Maicon in particular. That day on, the oppositions clearly identified the vulnerability of Inter and exploited Maicon’s demerits to the fullest; something which turned out to be pretty vital in the longer run.
Werder Bremen 3-0 Internazionale (UEFA Champions League Group Stage)
It was arguably the toughest phase in Rafa Benitez’s managerial career. Post the humiliation handed over by Harry Redknapp’s team in London, Inter had never hit the right patch of form. They were reduced to a stalemate by lesser teams like Brescia and Lecce, whereas the loss at home against arch rivals AC Milan, in the cross-town derby, had shaken Moratti’s confidence in his manager.
The critical injuries to some of the key players in Benitez’s plan were raising more adversities and the lack of flesh and muscle among the bench was pretty much on show. The latest 3-1 beating at the hands of Lazio almost ascertained Benitez’s parting in the winter and this was a chance for the Spaniard to regroup his men and deliver.
However, the misery only aggravated in Germany, as the hosts Werder Bremen stamped a complete authority over Inter, drubbing the champions 3-0. The loss ensured their second placed finish in the group behind Tottenham Hotspur. Despite the team being crippled by half a dozen injuries, this defeat did not go down too well with Moratti and the Inter faithfuls alike. Even a triumph in the Club World Cup to follow did not help Benitez in saving his job.
AC Milan 3-0 Internazionale (Serie A, Round 31, Episode-2, Milan Derby)
Post Leonardo taking over the managerial reins from Benitez, there were times when Inter were started being reconsidered as potential title contenders, denying city rivals AC Milan a chance to claim the Scudetto and elongate their drought of seven years. Leonardo had caught the correct vein of the dressing room and lady luck too bestowed him with choicest blessings, as all the first choice players reclaimed fitness and took no time in hitting their prime. The winter acquisitions were pretty delightful to see, gelling so seamlessly into the setup and suddenly Inter found themselves only two points behind Milan, ahead of the derby with a chance to supersede the Rossoneri at the summit, with a win.
Things began with a worst possible start for Inter, as Alexandre Pato put the virtual hosts in front, as early as the first minute in the game. It went from bad to worse for Leonardo, as his former disciples were more than keen to make a statement of intent against him. Milan eventually registered an emphatic 3-0 victory, which potentially shelved all the title hopes for Inter.
Internazionale 2-5 Schalke 04 (UEFA Champions League, Quarter Finals, First Leg)
With the ambitions of domestic title effectively being put to rest, the Nerazzurri had all to play for in the continental competition. Having beaten Bayern Munich, with a nerve ceasing victory at Allianz Arena in the previous round, Inter were deemed outright favourites to ease past the German debutants. Playing at San Siro, Inter were left shell shocked by the Ralf Rangnick-led side, as the champions were bettered in every single department of the game. Though inexperienced at this stage, Schalke had it in them to take the game to the home side and capitalized on Inter’s weaknesses in defence time and again. At the end of the first leg, the tie was all but decided with scorecard reading 5-2 in Schalke’s favour.
The return leg in Germany was a mere formality, as Inter showed no spirit whatsoever to make a match out of their outing. The elimination from the Champions League left the team in tatters, as in the very next game they received a second straight beating by Serie A’s giant killers Parma. However, Inter managed to get the better of AS Roma over two legs in the Coppa Italia semi-finals and are currently harbouring the hopes to win at least one piece of silverware, as they set a date with Palermo in the finals.
As the season reaches its culmination, Inter have a lot to ponder over. They require reinforcements in several areas and have to do away with a few aging legs ahead of the next season’s opener, which may well be a clash against Milan in the Italian Super Cup.