What Walter Mazzarri Can Achieve at Inter This Season
With six points from two games, things are looking up for Inter fans. This time last year, they'd already seen their up-and-down season in a nutshell and borne witness to the two sides of the Nerazzurri that were to define Andrea Stramaccioni's reign. They could be good...but more often then not they were be very, very poor.
Stramaccioni started last term with a 0-3 away win over whipping boys Pescara before being hammered at home 1-3 by Roma. They then beat Torino away before losing again at the San Siro to Siena, who'd go on to be relegated.
A purple patch followed with seven straight wins, the zenith of which was a memorable 1-3 win over Juventus away that ended the Bianconeri's unbeaten record in the league. And then it all went south for the Nerazzurri.
But before hazarding a guess as to what he can achieve, as Walter Mazzarri begins his time on the Inter bench, the obvious question to ask is this: What's changed?
The future of the club's finances still hangs in the balance. Massimo Moratti wants to sell to Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir. He's interested, but in no rush to make a move. Moratti, meanwhile, seems in no position to splash the cash like in days of old, so for the meantime Mazzarri will have to push on without significant reinforcements.
Whether he needs them or not, only time will tell. The squad is in a state of flux, part of a regeneration started by Stramaccioni and hopefully to be continued by the new man in charge.
As the old guard is replaced, it's going to be harder and harder for Inter to rely on their old heroes to plug the holes. Javier Zanetti is out long term, while Dejan Stankovic has retired a year early. Walter Samuel has been given an extension but, at 35, is no longer the defensive wall he once was.
The loss of several creative outlets in recent years has taken its toll. Such were the massive sums involved that little could have been done to stop Samuel Eto'o's departure, but while Wesley Sneijder might have been a drain on resources, Strama sure could of used his intelligence and creativity on the pitch.
Likewise, from his excellent displays for Liverpool, it's tempting to think that the young Brazilian Coutinho is going out of his way to show Moratti the mistake he made in letting him go. Was it foolish, too, to let Antonio Cassano leave as well? We'll see.
At least Inter got something positive from that deal, namely the young striker Ishak Belfodil. The 21-year-old has represented France through the youth ranks, but recently made his senior debut for Algeria.
He comes with some Serie A experience and something that hasn't been seen at the ageing Inter for some time up front—the almost certain promise that he'll get better in time.
Saphir Sliti Taider, formerly of Bologna, is another French-Algerian who's been signed to improve the midfield.
Belfodil will be joined up front by Mauro Icardi, another much-needed injection of youth into the dressing room who's arrived from Sampdoria, where last season he made a name for himself as one of the hottest young talents in the league.
Added to the young talent already at the club—the likes of Juan Jesus in defence and Mateo Kovacic and Joel Obi in the midfield—and there's enough reason to believe that Mazzarri has the bones of a squad that could be challenging for honours in the years to come.
Another glaring change, of course, is the arrival of Mazzarri himself. The former Napoli boss arrives with his own ideas and a reputation for getting results.
Formerly of Livorno, Reggina and Sampdoria, the 51-year-old is the rarest of things in Serie A—a manager who never gets sacked. Thus far it's been the Tuscan who's chosen the right time for his departure, always corresponding to a chance to continue his upward career trajectory.
At Inter, he's reached the top. Even with fewer resources than the likes of Roberto Mancini and Jose Mourinho, Mazzarri will be expected to win. Success is part of the territory at the club HQ in Appiano Gentile, and nothing less than trophies will do.
What can he achieve? Long term, plenty.
Mazzarri has proven himself to be one of the most intelligent and committed managers in world football. He transformed Napoli into one of Europe's most entertaining—and dangerous—sides without spending massive sums and having to contend with the occasional loss of star talent.
He knows how to grind out points, too. Where the rookie Stramaccioni slipped up, you'd expect the wily Mazzarri to succeed.
It was no small thing to keep Reggina in Serie A, for instance, especially not in his final season when the Calabrians were slapped with an 11-point deduction following a follow-up investigation to the Calciopoli scandal. Mazzarri's Amaranto needed a win on the final day to stay up, and a win they got: a 2-0 victory at home, over the newly crowned champions of Europe, AC Milan.
Put another way, you wouldn't bet against him winning big on the bench at the San Siro with a squad of world-class players.
In the short term, the new manager's achievements should be judged according to his circumstances. He's arrived at a club plagued with problems. Every season since Mourinho's historic treble has been an anti-climax. Expectation has remained high, but ability has dwindled.
Mazzarri must arrest that decline. Some thought Stramaccioni capable last season but though there were some positive signs, the simple fact is that Internazionale shouldn't lose twice in a season to Siena or Atalanta, shouldn't fail miserably on the European stage and shouldn't finish ninth.
It will be painful for some to accept, but Mazzarri's work might take time. There are plenty of positives on his squad sheet long term, and should Thohir arrive with some extra cash, the looser purse strings would speed things along.
The manager's first great achievement will be proving that Inter have definitively turned a corner. The last few seasons have been framed negatively by the press and the fans—but there's another way to look at it.
Mourinho's success was the zenith of a great Inter age—the crowning achievement of a golden generation that dominated Italian football and lead the way in Europe. It was never going to last forever. The club might have planned for it better, but only hindsight is 20/20.
Inter now have a new coach—and the chance to build success for the future. And if Mazzarri goes on to lead another Grande Inter to Scudetto and European glory, then the foundations of that achievement will have been laid this season. That's what he can achieve in 2014, and it would be no small thing.
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