Keys for Inter Milan Returning to the Summit of Serie A

Colin O'Brien@@ColliOBrienContributor IJuly 3, 2014

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 13:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Walter Mazzarri before the Serie A match UC Sampdoria and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 13, 2014 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

With the rest of the globe distracted by the World Cup, work is underway at Inter to return the Nerazzurri to the top of the Italian game after what have been four long, hard years in the wilderness. 

Walter Mazzarri has signed a contract extension, meaning that the club can count on stability on the bench during the time to come. Which is important, because rebuilding one of Europe's most successful clubs isn't going to be easy. 

Since Erick Thohir bought the club last season, the talk has been of rejuvenation and long-term planning. After three seasons outside of the Champions League, there'll be no quick fixes for Inter, but fans and the media will still expect to see results soon.

There's a lot of work to be done before Serie A kicks off afresh in August. Definitive plans need to be made, the squad needs to be rebuilt and having committed himself to the club, the manager needs to be shown that the club is willing to commit itself to him and to his ideas.

They'll also have to work hard to make sure that the key players that they have left don't join the worryingly long list of talent that's left the San Siro in recent years.


Stop Dwelling on the Past and Focus on the Future 

Retiring Javier Zanetti's iconic No.4 shirt is all well and good, but it's not the kind of headline that Inter should be making. Four years on from their historic treble season, they're still living in the past, yet to properly react to the fact that they're no longer at the top of the Italian or the European game, and that much has to be done if they're to return there. 

The Nerazzurri should be more concerned with future progress and long-term planning than symbolic gestures to club legends. Which isn't to say that Zanetti doesn't deserve all the plaudits he gets—it just shouldn't be the most exciting news coming from Appiano Gentile right now. 

Inter have slumped to their second successive season outside of the Champions League—almost 20 points off third place. There's plenty of competition in the Italian league and sides like Napoli and Fiorentina are more than able to upset the traditional powers, but if a side like Inter is to miss out on club football's biggest competition, it should be by a much closer margin. 

Fifth last season is an improvement on 2012-13's ninth, but hardly one worth talking about. For all of the positivity surrounding them at the start of the campaign, they managed just six more points, and actually won one less game. 

Morratti should have done more to stop the rot after the Champions League win in 2010, but he preferred to rest on his laurels. Now that decay is undeniable, it's time for Inter to stop treating the issue lightly and commit to an extensive root-and-branch assault on the problem.


Big Names are Needed

Splashing cash on marquee signings is rarely the best solution to a club's problems, but Inter need personalities to build the new squad around and at least one or two world-class players are sorely needed. 

With the likes of Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso and several other senior players leaving Inter this summer, the dressing room will need leaders and experience—two things that seems to be lacking in the current line-up. 

There were several members of the Algeria squad who surprised at this World Cup, but Saphir Taider wasn't one of them. The energetic midfielder isn't a bad player, but Inter are going to have to do better than signing the 22-year-old permanently if they're going to convince fans and opponents that they're serious about returning to the top of the game. 

Without wanting to be overly critical of individuals, the simple fact is that players like Taider wouldn't get near the starting line-up at Juventus, Roma or Napoli.

Inter need to focus on youth, and at least Taider has that on his side. Mateo Kovacic has been showing signs that he'll develop into the world-beater many predicted him to be since his early days for Dinamo Zagreb. That said, letting a young, homegrown player like Marco Benassi leave on a co-ownership deal with Torino (in Italian) is confusing, and it will be even more so if some big-name midfielders aren't brought in this season. 

Inter has an image problem now, and it will be no easy task to get top players to come to Milan without the promise of Champions League football. Incredibly, they couldn't even get Tom Ince to come, as the English winger preferred a move to Hull in the Premier League. That anyone would turn down the Nerazzurri for a small English side with no title ambitions should speaks volumes. 


Hold on to the Few Important Players They Have

The current squad is short on high-quality talent, and Inter need to be careful that they don't lose what little they do have this summer. 

There is a core of skilled players at the club who are young enough to be part of a long-term project, but speculation is rife regarding their futures the likes of Ricardo Alvarez, Fredy GuarinSamir Handanovic, Mauro Icardi and the aforementioned Kovacic all attracting interest from abroad. 

Losing Handanovic, in particular, would be a damaging blow to Inter because the Slovenian has been one of Serie A's top keepers for several seasons, but they should also be desperate to tie down the rest of their top talent because without them the rebuilding process will be that much harder. Guarin is already the finished article, and Icardi and Kovacic show plenty of promise. They need to be the cornerstones of Mazzarri's new Inter. 


Back Mazzarri Above All Else

Speaking to just after signing a contract extension, Mazzarri was full of positivity about his ambition with Inter and his relationship with the club's owner, Erick Thohir. He said:  

First of all I'd like to thank president Erick Thohir. He's shown once again that he believes in me and the project we began a year ago. I hope to be able to repay the faith shown in me with my work on the pitch. I'll do everything in my power to get Inter back where the club belongs in Italy and Europe.

Thohir was signing from the same hymn-sheet, telling the site:

We're very happy to have extended our coach's contract. With this extension we have made it clear that Mazzarri is a cornerstone of our project. I'm confident with the hard work and dedication he has shown he’ll achieve great things at this club.

Interisti will be hoping that everything's as rosy when the going gets tough next season. Inter hired six managers in three years after Jose Mourinho left, and it didn't do them any good.

Mazzarri brought stability, and a proven track record. He was one of Italy's most respected coaches before he joined the Nerazzurri, rightly praised for his results and his ability to get the best out of players. None of that has changed.

The only difference now is that, at Inter, the Tuscan manager is under an awful lot more pressure both internally and externally—pressure that could easily derail his career at the San Siro. 

The club can't allow that to happen. Mazzarri needs the support of the board, and a commitment to squad investment and development. They've got one of the best managers in the league, and need to do everything they can to keep hold of him and make it work, because there won't be a better option on standby if they decide he's not making progress quickly enough. 



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