Bold Predictions for Walter Mazzarri's Reign at Inter
Walter Mazzarri and Internazionale Milano. A match made in heaven, or hell? Off the bat, it's hard to tell.
On the one hand, it's the union of a widely-respected manager who's proven he can succeed, often with limited resources, and one of the world's most recognisable and powerful football clubs. The ideal home for an experienced coach with a proven track record looking to make the step up to the big time.
On the other, Inter are a club in crisis and though Mazzarri did a commendable job at Napoli, few were sorry to see him leave.
Having swapped the Tuscan for Rafa Benitez—one of the many to occupy the Inter hot seat in recent years—the Partenopei have moved on quickly, with little of the sentiment or longing that usually accompanies the loss of a long-term boss to a "bigger" rival.
Then there's the fact that Mazzarri's former club are enjoying more of the spotlight of late, and his replacement will be in the Champions League while he spends the year without even the distraction of the Europa League.
Of course, in Milan Mazzarri has the opportunity to create something lasting and compete long-term at the highest level, and while he spent the summers in Naples worrying about losing his best players despite consistently challenging for honours, Inter have both the reputation and the bank balance to hold on to the big names—assuming, obviously, that they can win.
That's a big assumption, and a dangerous one at a club that even its hardcore supporters refer to as Pazza Inter, Crazy Inter.
If ever there was a football club that gave you the feeling of the nut house being run by the inmates, it's the Nerazzurri. And chief among the culpable is Massimo Moratti.
To say that the Inter president can be erratic would be putting it mildly. The fact that Mazzarri is his seventh managerial appointment in five years tells its own story.
Inter have had 21 coaches in the last 18 years, and only Roberto Mancini enjoyed what would be considered a reasonably long stay at the San Siro. And Mancini's success was more the result of Calciopoli than anything else.
But there are other issues bound to affect the new manager's tenure. Last season, while the pressure mounted on Andrea Stramaccioni's young shoulders, I wrote at length about why Inter's woes had little to do with the coach. And yet, Strama was sacked and nothing else has changed.
Mazzarri inherits the rubble of Stramaccioni's attempts to rebuild. He'll probably want to start from scratch again, not least because he favours a 3-5-2. But transfer policy at Inter is unpredictable at best and often veers towards the irresponsible.
So what are this humble observer's predictions for Mazzarri's debut season on the Inter bench?
Mazzarri has gone an incredible decade without being sacked. It might not be a record, but it certainly deserves commendation in a league where coaches can be lucky to last 10 months, never mind 10 years.
It will be different at Inter. The pressure will be on right from day one, and he'll be reminded constantly of the very long list of recent predecessors all the time.
One of Mazzarri's weaknesses, at least in the eyes of some, is that his is quite tactically rigid.
He will want to mould Inter into a 3-5-2 unit and that might not go down so well with some senior players.
Stramaccioni used a three-man defence at times last season, but it certainly wasn't too popular when Gian Piero Gasperini tried to introduce the change back in 2011. Gasperini, too, had come to Milan from a smaller club where he'd enjoyed some success and built a reputation for entertaining football.
The players at Gasperini's disposal while he managed Genoa were happy to play 3-4-3, because most of them were just happy to play. When he moved to the San Siro he found that egos and reputations can make life a lot harder, especially for a coach who wants an already-successful and well-known footballer or two to change position slightly for the sake of the team.
There'll be a wobble at some stage in the season, and the president will immediately start to look elsewhere for a replacement.
And from the bench, the view back south to Naples might start to look very appealing as Benitez takes the Azzurri to Europe and hopefully puts up a challenge for the Scudetto, free from the shackles of expectation that come at a club with the stature of Inter.
Another year in the doldrums for Inter
If Moratti wants real change and lasting success, he needs to stick with one manager. Mazzarri is an experienced, capable and sought-after candidate and deserves to be given time. Because that's what it will take.
Inter's squad is still in need of a lot of work, and with Juve, Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Roma all strengthening over the summer, it's hard to see this current crop of players competing for honours.
The fruits of Mazzarri's labours will be seen down the line, and perhaps even late in his first season. But he'll need more time than six months to revitalise this sickly giant. Not everyone would bet on him getting it.
A changing of the guard
The first thing Mazzarri will do is usher in some fresh blood to this ageing squad. Inter's youth system has produced a number of promising talents in recent years, only to see them be sold on or used as make-weights in transfers for older players.
The new boss should change that. If the primavera side has something to offer, it should be the first port of call for any manager, especially one looking to build a new system with the aim of long-term success at the San Siro.
Young stars Mateo Kovacic, Marco Benassi and Ibrahima Mbaye broke into the first team last season and should develop more under Mazzarri. But more fresh faces will be needed.
A new hope, same old pessimism
Mazzarri is a good coach at a great club. It has the potential to be a lasting and fruitful union. He's young enough to carry on for a long time and yet old enough to have learned his trade and arrive on the Inter bench with fully formed ideas. In many ways, he's the ideal candidate.
But the same old problems face the new man, and only time will tell if he'll get the better of them.
He must rebuild a team on a limited budget under intense media scrutiny and with lofty expectations all-round demanding almost immediate success. And in the background at all times, a trigger-happy president who's not afraid of interfering.
So, to paraphrase Bilbo and Frodo in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring, have I thought about an ending? Yes, and all are dark and unpleasant.
Good luck, Walter. You'll need it.
What do you think will happen at Inter this season? Let me know on Twitter, @ColliOBrien
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