The long running saga that was Rafael Benitez finally drew to a close with Inter President Massimo Moratti finally losing faith and patience in the Spanish coach.
Benitez’s outburst after the Fifa Club World Cup win has been well documented and would have played no small role in his dismissal thereafter.
Since then, former Milan coach, player and director Leonardo has been appointed as Inter’s new head coach. President Moratti has shown great warmth towards his new appointment and on the face of it, a lot more support as well than was afforded to Benitez.
The debate whether Benitez was harshly treated or not will be left for another day. In this article, I will look over how Inter’s chances in the Champions League have been affected with this appointment.
Leonardo will certainly be more astute than Benitez when it comes to managing in Serie A. Having the experience of playing and managing in the league should prevent him from making some of the rookie mistakes that his predecessor made.
However, the Champions League is a different kettle of fish. It’s a competition where Benitez, for all his criticism, has a stupendous record. Given that losses to Spurs and Bremen were not all that confidence inspiring, one tends to feel that Benitez could have done well in the knockout rounds with this team.
Now, a quick look at Leonardo’s record in the Champions League record: Played six, won two, drawn three and lost one in the group stages.
The knockout round was a major disappointment, as Milan lost home and away to an aggregate score of 7-2.
So at first glance, his record looks quite shaky. In comparison, this year’s Milan has a group stage record of played six, won two, drawn two and lost two with a total of eight points. This is one point less than the 2009/10 campaign.
Milan’s squad is undoubtedly stronger this season and a lot of the players who were not performing or injured last season have been reignited with the injection of Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Co.
Thus taking a closer look, it appears as though Leonardo didn’t do as bad a job as first seems.
It is hard to defend a manger whose team loses home and away and that to a very one sided aggregate score of 7-2. That is exactly what Manchester United did to Milan.
What was Milan’s dismal performance down to then? Was it the manager alone who was a inept or was it something that he really had no control over?
The Milan team from last season was regarded as being over the hill and lacking creativity and imagination up front. Compared to this season’s side, he had a lot less to work with.
When you compare his performance to the current manager, Allegri, he does not show up too badly.
The tie against Manchester United came at a time when United were rampant. They were sweeping up one and all before them in the Premier League and when it came to the European stage, Wayne Rooney was in red-hot form.
Though Milan started off brightly and took the lead, after Scholes’ leveler it seemed as though the Milan players felt the game’s result was a foregone conclusion. Even though Milan managed to pull one back, the final score line of a 3-2 home loss meant a near impossible task for a Milan team at Old Trafford.
Thus, it seems as though Milan were destined to lose that tie as they came up against an opposition who were in better form and had a superior squad of players.
Yet, it seems worrying from an Inter point of view that Leonardo couldn’t inspire his team from losing 4-0 away—an embarrassing score line.
A tactically brilliant coach would have been able to do a lot better and even inspire his team a little more; this does not mean Leonardo is a poor coach, it just means that he has still not reached the level of a Mourinho or an Ancelotti.
It is not possible to directly compare Leonardo to Benitez as the latter has played in European competition consistently over the past decade. A quick glance at his record:
2004/05 – Winners,
2005/06 – Last -16,
2006/07 – Runner’s up,
2007/08 – Semi finals,
2008/09 – Quarter finals,
2009/10 – Group stage finished 3rd in their group,
2010/11 – Inter finished 2nd in their group.
This does not take into account Beitez's wonderful achievements with Valencia, although that was in the UEFA Cup or Europa League. It is hard to criticize his record as he has consistently done well barring the 2009/10 season, which was an overall disaster for the manager.
Inter finishing second in their group is something Benitez’ predecessor Mourinho did too.
Thus after studying what Leonardo and Benitez have achieved, or not achieved, on the European stage, it does seem as though Inter may have sacrificed some tactical experience in knockout rounds for a manager who knows his way around Serie A a lot better.
Given Leonardo’s start at Inter, the sluggishness that was evident in his last season’s Milan team is absent and he might be able to get an inspired bunch of players to make up for his inexperience in Europe.