2011-12 was not a good season for Inter Milan, as the club finished sixth place in Serie A. Yet it could've been so much worse were it not for Andrea Stramaccioni.
When Claudio Ranieri was sacked, Inter Milan were sinking fast. They were in eighth place in the league, and had one just one match in this last 10 games. Stramaccioni came in and turned things around.
In his first game, Stramaccioni recorded a thrilling 5-4 win over Genoa, and over the next five games, he and Inter picked up 11 out of 15 possible points.
Unfortunately, Inter lost two of their last three matches to finish sixth, but the fact that he brought a team so low on confidence and morale to within two wins of finishing third and entering the Champions League qualifying rounds was remarkable.
His 4-2 win over Milan was particularly impressive in the penultimate round of Serie A, and for his efforts, Stramaccioni was awarded a permanent contract.
Now in his first full season with Inter Milan, Stramaccioni will be able to develop his own tactical plan for his team, further understand his players and put his stamp on his team.
It seems that he's already done much of that with the massive amount of transfer activity done at the San Siro this summer.
Rodrigo Palacio joined Inter for €10.5 million from Genoa, while Samir Handanovic was also signed for €11 million and youth talent Davide Faraoni. The former brings depth and skill to a front line depleted this summer, while Handanovic has been brought in to replace Julio Cesar.
Freddy Guarin had his loan transfer made permanent for €11 million, and the loan signings of Matias Silvestre and Gaby Mudingayi, along with the return of Philippe Coutinho, McDonald Mariga and Jonathan Moreira should add much depth and talent to Inter's defense and midfield.
In terms of transfers out, there's been a mass exodus of players from Inter Milan. Andrea Poli, Angelo Palombo and Mauro Zarate were all not retained despite coming to Inter Milan with strong reputations, and Luc Castaignos was sold back to Twente as well.
Lucio and Diego Forlan both had their contracts terminated, and while Forlan has been effectively replaced with Palacio, Lucio has left without a capable heir in the squad. Andrea Ranocchia and Juan Jesus will likely benefit from Lucio's exit with playing time, but neither player is ready at all to perform at the same level as Lucio did during his time with Inter.
Finally, Sulley Muntari and Goran Pandev have completed transfers away from Inter Milan after spending last season on loan with Milan and Napoli respectively, and their exits mean a loss of depth and attacking talent for Inter.
All in all, Inter's moves this summer have put the club in a fairly good position. The experienced core is still very much there at the club, with the likes of Javier Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso, Walter Samuel, Douglas Maicon and others all playing active roles—but youth players look like they will see regular playing time too.
Philippe Coutinho has already been given an active role in the club's Europa League campaign, and I expect that youngsters like Joel Obi and Juan Jesus will also pick up playing time once the club's Coppa Italia and Serie A campaigns kick off.
Even unknown youth products like Ibrahima Mbaye have received playing time, and with a total of six youth products being promoted by Stramaccioni, I expect we'll see at least a couple of them regularly involved as substitutes or rotational starters.
Stramaccioni has brought a freshness to Inter not known since the days of Jose Mourinho. Under him, Diego Milito has started scoring goals again, Wesley Sneijder has rediscovered his old form, and players once thought to be no longer of use at the San Siro, like Douglas Maicon and Philippe Coutinho, have rediscovered their passion for the game.
Last season, neither Gian Piero Gasperini nor Claudio Ranieri could produce methods to motivate and drive Inter Milan forward for an entire season. In the case of Gasperini, his awkward tactics never meshed with Inter, and in the case of Ranieri, he experienced a strong start before his methods became old and predictable and unable to yield positive results.
It's still early, but so far, Stramaccioni has been a breathe of fresh air to his players and management. His risky-but-calculated approach has inspired players and produced quality attacking football. Consistency remains an issue, but not one that cannot be overcome.
Inter Milan's squad doesn't necessarily look strong enough to overtake the dominance of Juventus and challenge for the title, but with proper coaching, third place and the Champions League qualifying rounds should not be out of reach.
Right now, Inter have a largely new squad full of players in either in their first season at Inter or making a new start with the club. As such, the players are especially reliant upon their manager to guide them.
With such a new squad, Inter will likely either shine or flop spectacularly in 2012-13 with Stramaccioni leading the way. I'm betting he lives up to the hype and delivers a successful season to the Inter Milan faithful.
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