Why Inter Milan Must Continue with Walter Mazzarri as Manager
As the season draws to a close, speculation is running rampant as to whether or not Inter Milan manager Walter Mazzarri will be retained.
Mazzarri was hired this year by Massimo Moratti, who has since stepped aside as owner and president after Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir bought the club.
It is natural to think that after a changing of the guard the new regime would want to hire their own people. Thohir, however, seems intent on keeping Mazzarri around for at least another year. An ESPNFC report from last week quoted the new Inter president at a news conference as saying "Mazzarri will have next year as well to build a team."
Thohir's instinct to keep Mazzarri is the correct one. The former Napoli boss may have his warts, but retaining him will be the right decision for Inter. Here are a few reasons why.
Improvement Has Already Been Made
Last year was an absolute nightmare for Inter.
The team finished ninth and was knocked out of the Europa League in the Round of 16. What made things worse was that such poor results came from a season that started so incredibly well. The Nerazzurri were 9-0-2 (W-D-L) in their first 11 games. The run was punctuated by a 10-match unbeaten run in all competitions that they capped off by becoming the first team to ever defeat Juventus at their palatial new stadium in Turin.
To say the wheels came off after that is an understatement—it's more like they flew. The team won only seven league games the rest of the season.
One of the most important things Mazzarri has done this year is to avoid the putrid stretches that plagued his predecessor, Andrea Stramaccioni. Inter lost only one of their first 15 games this season, and while they have fallen off since then ,they have been in the top five all but three weeks of the season and have not lost consecutive games this season.
The worst stretch of their season was from Round 16 to Round 22, when they won one, drew two and lost four—but two of those loses were road games against Napoli and Juventus and the lone victory was the all-important Derby della Madonnina.
Not counting the one rough patch the Milan giants have been remarkably consistent and far better than the poor facsimile they presented a year ago.
While that's not what Inter fans are used to, especially after their dominant stretch in the mid-to-late 2000s, it is a huge positive on Mazzarri's ledger and not to be ignored.
He Needs Players
One of the biggest knocks on Mazzarri is his slavish devotion to his three-man defensive tactics. Indeed, for a large chunk of the year Mazzarri, played no formation other than a 3-5-1-1—only a slight modification of the 3-5-2 that he had so much success with at Napoli.
Compare that to Serie A's current standard-bearer, Antonio Conte—who has changed his tactical system to fit his squad's best talents twice since he arrived at Juventus and looks primed to do so again this summer—and Mazzarri looks stuck in the mud.
It's something of a wonder that Inter has been as successful as they have been without a compliment of players that fit into the counter-attacking style that Mazzarri made famous at the San Paolo. Aging pieces like Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti, though club legends, don't have the legs to play the type of game Mazzarri wants to play. Diego Milito was vital to 2010's treble but can't stay on the field long enough to make an impact. It's questionable whether any of the center-backs he has on hand can play in a three-man line at full effectiveness.
For Mazzarri to truly make this side click within his system he needs players tailored to it. Thohir started things rolling for him this winter when he purchased Hernanes from Lazio. The Brazilian can play the role Marek Hamsik played for Mazzarri at Napoli—something he was sorely missing in the beginning of the year.
He needs more. With European competition back on at Inter this season, the midfield will have to be reinforced with multiple bodies—either from the team's talented youth system or elsewhere—in order to have the necessary depth and quality. He'll need at least one more forward—hopefully a revitalized Ishak Belfodil but possibly another option—to back up Rodrigo Palacio and Mauro Icardi. If Icardi, whose childish feud with former teammate Maxi Lopez got old very quickly, is offloaded to rid the dressing room of his nonsense, he'll need more than that.
The fact that Mazzarri has jumped four places with basically the same squad from last year is astonishing. If he gets players who are of greater quality and who are better fits for his system, things might develop even quicker than most thought.
His European Experience Will Be Valuable
With three games remaining, Inter are five points up on the conglomerate of Torino, Lazio and Hellas Verona. With Napoli and Fiorentina—this year's Coppa Italia finalists—both locked into a top-five finish, sixth place has become a Europa League spot this year. Stranger things have happened, but it seems unlikely at this stage that Inter will drop two places in three games.
That means Inter will be back in Europe after a year's absence—an important milestone even if it is the Europa League. Mazzarri has experience in the UEFA Cup/Europa League as well as the Champions League, and next year that experience will serve the team well.
Mazzarri did an exemplary job in the 2011-12 Champions League, picking his way through a Group of Death that included Bayern Munich and Manchester City. The Partenopei held Man City at Eastlands and beat them at home, managed a draw against Bayern—the eventual runners up—at the San Paolo and very nearly overturned a first-half hat-trick by Mario Gomez at the Allianz in the return leg. Two wipeouts of a struggling Villarreal side put them through second.
In the Round of 16 against Chelsea, Napoli pulled a major first-leg upset by beating the Blues 3-1 at home. Roberto Di Matteo's side then figured Napoli out and preyed on their back three's weakness in the air. They forced extra time on a 75th-minute penalty by Frank Lampard and won the tie on a headed goal from Branislav Ivanovic.
Mazzarri fell prey the next season to the prevailing Italian attitude of treating the Europa League like a distraction and Napoli fell in the Round of 32 to Viktoria Plzen, but his achievements in the continent's premier competition show that he can compete at that level, and if he treats the Europa League as a learning experience next season—as Antonio Conte has at Juve—he could make the team deadly in the Champions League when they make it back.
Inter Need Stability
More than anything else, Inter need stability in the manager's office.
Since Jose Mourinho left to try his hand at Real Madrid following 2010's historic treble, Inter has had six managers. None of the first four lasted a full season and the fifth, Andrea Stramaccioni, wasted his incredible start to the season by tinkering so much with the team's makeup that it was never able to find an identity.
Changing managers will mean a new support staff, new tactics, new potential player needs and more distracting media buzzing about the team's heads.
Another managerial change is the last thing this team needs, particularly after making substantial progress this season. Keeping the position stable will benefit the club more at this moment than replacing Mazzarri with new blood..