Why Did It Go Wrong for Saphir Taider at Inter Milan?

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Why Did It Go Wrong for Saphir Taider at Inter Milan?
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Southampton announced the transfer of Saphir Taider on Wednesday. The Algeria midfielder has joined the club on a season-long loan deal from Internazionale, with Dani Osvaldo moving in the opposite direction.

The Saints need major work in the transfer market this summer, following the departures of a number of their key players. The addition of Taider feels like a step in the right direction, the midfielder is a talented operator who could become one of the finest central midfielders in the Premier League, certainly outside the top seven.

However, in moving to Southampton, the failure of Taider’s move to Internazionale has all but been confirmed. This article aims to explore where it all went wrong for the north African in Milan.

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First of all, it’s important to state that despite his disappointing stint in Lombardy, Taider is still a fine player.

The Castres-born star has all the tools to be an excellent all-round midfielder. As he demonstrated in Brazil, while on World Cup duty with Algeria, he is a busy contributor to the central-midfield zone, capable of pressing the opposition, intercepting passes and breaking up opposition attacks.

He is also technically and tactically proficient, capable of recycling the ball intelligently and retaining a fluidity of possession for his team’s midfield.

Last season, for example, he managed a successful pass rate of 89 percent with Inter. Putting this into context, only 20 players in the whole division managed more and only one of his teammates, Mateo Kovacic, achieved a better success rate.

While he showed his ability to pass sensibly and carefully, his precision was not matched by a propensity for killer balls. He averaged only 0.8 per match in Serie A last term, leaving him firmly outside the division’s Top 100.

Perhaps most tellingly, he managed only one assist.

Taider can use the ball carefully and competently but not particularly dangerously.

He also brings energy and defensive poise to the heart of the park. Alongside Nabil Bentaleb at the World Cup, for example, he was a dynamic presence for the north Africans, operating as a relentless box-to-box player underpinned by the muscle and intuition of Carl Medjani.

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As noted by Will Unwin of ITV.com: “His tremendous energy allows him to get up and down the pitch, making him the perfect box-to-box midfielder, at the same time being ferocious in the tackle—consistently breaking up play.” 

However, his failings were also evident, in spells, during the World Cup. Despite being a key figure in Algeria’s excellent campaign, Taider largely failed to repay the faith shown in him by Vahid Halilhodzic in the Desert Foxes' crucial second-round battle with Germany.

Despite playing played behind Islam Slimani through the middle of the Fennecs’ 4-2-3-1 formation, Taider largely struggled to leave an impression on the match. As noted by FIFA.com, he only completed 18 passes during the 78 minutes he was on the pitch. 

One would be expecting more from a player in such a key position, particularly against a defence as shambolic (and high) as Germany’s was that evening. However, this statistic demonstrates how Taider is not necessarily suited to a role as an attacking midfielder.

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Another weakness, as explored by my colleague Allan Jiang, is Taider’s shooting.

Goalscoring midfielders are worth their weight in gold. Sadly, the Algerian doesn’t fit into this category. Despite finding himself in good positions and possessing an above average technique, his shots are often too weak or poorly chosen.

These deficiencies, while they could reasonably be levelled at an attacking midfielder or a Number 10, aren’t quite as important when considering a deeper-lying midfielder. Taider certainly possesses the defensive and passing abilities to be successful at Inter—had he been given the opportunity.

Largely, however, Taider’s failure is one of circumstance and context.

A temporary switch to Southampton gives him the opportunity to once again demonstrate his qualities in a league and, perhaps most importantly, a team that gives him ample occasion to do so.

He arrived at Internazionale from Bologna in August 2013, following his excellent performances in Serie A at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara. 

Right from the beginning, however, questions were raised about the move—at least in the short term. Walter Mazzari initially appeared unclear about how best to use the talented north African.

Sometimes he played just ahead of anchorman Esteban Cambiasso, while on other occasions he was employed on the left of a 3-4-1-1 formation. Being a fine all-rounder, and considering his versatility, Taider rarely disappointed, but clearly, unless he was allowed to develop in one position, he would struggle to reach his potential in the long term.

It hasn’t really happened, and last season the midfielder was a largely peripheral figure, starting only 13 games in Serie A.

In early 2014, writing for Bleacher Report, I expressed concern that Taider might be “tarnished by the current malaise around the club and would struggle to prosper in such a transitional team.” While “tarnish” is too strong a notion, it’s fair to say that upon the shifting sands of Inter, the Algerian has struggled to realise his immense potential.  

As early as May, my fears had been realised. Writing for Kick Off, I noted that Taider had “fallen on hard times of late.” 

Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images

It was a similar story for his compatriot, Ishak Belfodil, who also made the move from Bologna only to find the rug pulled from beneath him at Inter, before expressing a desire to leave, as per Stefan Coerts of Goal.com

Upon his arrival at Inter, Taider said the following to the club’s Inter Channel, as reported by Sky Sports: “Without hard work you don't achieve anything, that's why it's important to work every day and improve along with the coach and the club that has shown so much faith in me."

Unfortunately, while the club demonstrated their faith in the player in buying him, they struggled to back it up by making him a central component of their midfield. 

The switch to Southampton is the result.

Being let go by the Nerazzurri is not necessarily a career-destroying reality. Dennis Bergkamp, Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf were all, for one reason or another, deemed not good enough by the Lombardy club and sent on their way.

Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images

Taider might struggle to reach the heights of that illustrious trio, but in the right context, there is no reason why he couldn’t become a star man in one of Europe’s major leagues.

While it remains to be seen exactly how Ronald Koeman will approach life and use his personnel at St. Mary’s, the club have a reputation and infrastructure in which the Algerian could well thrive.

Saints fans may soon find that Taider's failings in Milan had little to do with his ability.

 

All Statistics are via WhoScored.com

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