The 2009-10 season was glorious for Inter Milan. They became the first Italian team to achieve a Treble—winning the Serie A title, the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Champions League. The Serie A campaign was exciting to the end, coming down to the final day before they finally finished two points ahead of second-place Roma.
They dispatched the same team in an exciting Coppa final that finished 1-0, and they dominated Bayern Munich en route to a 2-0 victory in the Champions League Final. They had won five straight scudetti and looked to be one of the best teams in the world, possibly a side that could challenge Spanish giants Barcelona on a regular basis.
My, how things change.
Less than two full seasons later, Inter is sitting in seventh place after garnering only one win in their last 10 matches and they were eliminated from the Coppa Italia in the quarterfinals and from the Champions League in the first knockout round. Inter has gone from a team in triumph to a team in turmoil.
What has caused this precipitous fall from grace?
One of the biggest issues has been the revolving door at the manager's office. Since Jose Mourinho's two-year tenure at the San Siro ended, Inter has had five managers: Rafael Benitez, Leonardo, Gian Piero Gasperini, Claudio Ranieri and Andrea Stramaccioni. None of these coaches has had a tenure of more than seven months, and none has managed more than 34 games.
This lack of continuity has had a disastrous effect on the team. It is impossible for a manager to install his system with so little time, nor can he make the necessary transfer moves to make the roster more conducive to that system—a problem for both Gasperini, whose system was totally unsuited for the players on his roster, and Ranieri, who spent much time experimenting with formations and lineups. The lack of time to adapt to an ever-changing system has shown in Inter's games this year, where they have often looked lost and confused, both on offense and defense.
The man responsible for this musical coaches act, team owner and president Massimo Moratti, is also responsible for the second reason for this collapse: a horribly misguided approach to the transfer market.
At the beginning of the 2011-12 season, Moratti transferred away promising young defender Davide Santon and—inexplicably—forward Samuel Eto'o, who had scored 53 times in all competitions in his two seasons with the team. This out-of-the-blue sale was completely ill-advised. Moratti was offloading his top scorer despite the fact that his other starting XI forward, Diego Milito, was coming off a terrible season that saw him score only eight goals and garnered him the satirical bidone d'oro (literally translated: golden trash can) award as the worst player in Italy for the 2011 calendar year. The move also rubbed the players the wrong way—so much that Thiago Motta indicated it was one of the major reasons as to why he demanded his eventual transfer to PSG during the winter window.
Compounding the problems made by selling Eto'o were the moves made to replace him. The mercurial Mauro Zarate was acquired on loan from Lazio and has not looked at all comfortable, only scoring twice in all competitions. But worse was the last-minute deal that brought Diego Forlan to the San Siro. It didn't cost much—only €5 million—but Moratti made an inexcusable oversight before finalizing the deal.
Forlan's previous club, Atletico Madrid, had just played in the playoff round of the Europa League, cup-tying him and making him ineligible for the group stage of the Champions League. Not that it would have mattered, because Forlan has been injured and ineffective for much of the year, but such a crucial mistake in the transfer market is another indication that Moratti is very much responsible for the team's nosedive.
Who bears the most responsibility for Inter's collapse?
The case of Inter is comparable to that of the plight of the Major League Baseball's New York Yankees in the 1980s and '90s.
After a remarkable run at the end of the 1970s where they won their division three straight years and the World Series in the last two of them, owner George Steinbrenner spent unwisely on a number of free agents and entry-draft choices that eventually fizzled out. It was only when Steinbrenner was suspended from day-to-day operations of the team for hiring a man to dig up dirt on outfielder Dave Winfield, a player he despised, that the Yankees were able to build a cohesive model for acquiring and developing players without the owner's interference. Steinbrenner would return three years later but for a time was less inclined to get in the way of his front office, and the Yankees ended the 20th century winning four World Series titles in five years.
What must happen in order for Inter to flourish again is for Moratti to take a less involved role in the day-to-day operations of the club. His terrible record in the transfer market over the past few years has contributed to Inter fielding a team of players that, by the club's lofty standards, are not up to snuff—not to mention, fielding a team that is much older (average age 28.6, with 14 of 25 first-team players 30 or over) than many of the teams that are currently in front of them in Serie A, such as Napoli, Udinese and Juventus. It's no surprise that important players such as Forlan and Wesley Sneijder have spent significant time on the bench injured.
Compounding the transfer mistakes are the bad managerial choices. Since Mourinho left, Moratti has selected managers that were either generally subpar (Benitez), unwilling so stay on (Leonardo), ran a system that was entirely unsuited for the players he had on hand (Gasperini) or couldn't even settle on a system he wanted to use (Ranieri).
Some of the blame can be placed on managers, particularly Ranieri, whose constant experimentation wasted the hot streak the team went on after his hiring and reduced the role of the team's best player, Sneijder, to the point where it is almost certain that his long-rumored transfer to Manchester United will happen at some point this summer. But Moratti is the one who hired these ill-suited managers—and who fired them before they could get established. He deserves the brunt of the blame.
All is not lost for Inter. Injuries forced Ranieri to promote promising young players like Lorenzo Crisetig and Luc Castaignos to the first team, and their youth team just won the inaugural NextGen Series—a Champions League-like competition that pitted them against some of the best young talent in Europe—with new coach Andrea Stramaccioni at the helm.
It's conceivable that they can recover very quickly, but that is contingent on Moratti. With Milan always dangerous, Juventus looking like they have finally recovered from their post-calciopoli malaise and upstarts like Udinese and Napoli showing signs that they may place themselves amongst Serie A's elite for years to come, it will be difficult to sustain a five-year run like the one Inter had after calciopoli. Inter has lost two if its best players in the last two transfer windows, and they figure to lose another if Sneijder's much-talked about transfer is finally made official.
For Inter to not fall behind, Moratti must fade into the background. His decisions the past two years have cut down a side that was flying high. It will likely take another mind to bring his team back to it.