Inter going retro in a bad way
Maybe there's a new dimension to Jose Mourinho's specialness, one we've so far overlooked. In fact, perhaps it's the single biggest feat of his managerial career. In the two seasons he was at Inter, the club was, well, "normal."
No senseless infighting. No ripping up blueprints from one day to the next. Everybody pulling in the same direction and a clear medium-term plan. Arguably, except for the early part of Roberto Mancini's five-year regime (before the vicious row with the club's medical staff, the allegations of wiretapping and the resignation on live television), it's something Inter haven't enjoyed since Giovanni Trapattoni's tenure more than 20 years ago.
And, by the way, it's worth noting that Mourinho's two years at Inter weren't the placid, triumphal march that some revisionists now depict.
The transfer activity in his first summer ranged from the disastrous (Mancini, Ricardo Quaresma) to the indifferent (Sulley Muntari), to the point that, the following year, Mourinho ceded much of the control back to the club. But it happened without controversy and recrimination. Inter was bounced early from the Champions League in his first season: again, no pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth.
And, in his second season, the club frittered away a 14-point lead over Roma and nearly lost the Serie A title, but, throughout, it remained united and on-message, as it did during Mario Balotelli's meltdown.
Now, however, the wheels have come off. Preseason training begins on July 8 -- sixteen days from now -- and Inter doesn't have a manager.
More worryingly, it doesn't seem to have a plan, either.
Last week it emerged that Leonardo, the incumbent will be leaving to join Paris St. Germain as director of football. PSG, with its new Qatari shareholders, has serious ambitions but, still, you would have thought that Inter would be more appealing to the Brazilian boss.
Then again, Leonardo's vote of confidence from the club at the end of last season was about as lukewarm as could be.
You can debate whether Inter should have kept faith with Leonardo.
Critics will point to the hefty defeat in the Milan derby (3-0) and the self-destruction in the quarterfinal against Schalke, a team the nerazzurri should have destroyed. But then it's also true that Leonardo's Inter won the Coppa Italia, that he took over a seventh-place team and took it to second in Serie A and that his overall record of 20 wins, 4 draws and 7 losses in 31 games was only marginally worse than Mourinho's: 2.12 points per game for the Special One, 2.06 for the Brazilian.
Either way, what you do
As bad as the Leonardo affair was, what happened next bordered on the absurd. Inter seemingly whipped out the Rolodex and started calling up managers, getting one "no" after the other.
Marcelo Bielsa? No, thank you.
Carlo Ancelotti? Nope, would rather take some time off.
Sinisa Mihailovic? Maybe, then no, then "Fiorentina won't let me," then "they might let me, but I"m not convinced," then "maybe not this year".
Andres Villas Boas? A flat-out "no," I'm staying at Porto ... until Chelsea came calling.
Fabio Capello? Let's talk, but only if the Football Association let me go. And the English FA, of course, at this time, have little leadership and even fewer viable candidates to replace him, particularly after they painted themselves into a corner by announcing the next England boss would be English.
Guus Hiddink? I'm still under contract with the Turkish FA. And not even the financial might of Roman Abramovich could pry me loose. But, sure, in the unlikely event that Turkey lets me go and Chelsea no longer want me then maybe we can talk.
All of a sudden, the front-runners are Delio Rossi and Gian Gasperini, both unemployed bosses who showed glimpses of real quality but probably paid the price for working under megalomaniacal owners (Maurizio Zamparini at Palermo and Enrico Preziosi at Genoa).
The point here isn't which one of the above could/would do a good job for Inter. It's that proper, well-run clubs have some sort of medium- term strategy, an idea of what type of manager they would like, what type of football they want to play, what kind of philosophy they would like to have. And, in that sense, the above men are all radically different from each other in terms of tactical approach, personality, management style and age.
It's classic "chuck-everything-against-the-wall-and-see-if-anything-sticks" stuff. Which is how Inter has been run for most of the past few decades.
Inter's priorities right now ought to be figuring out how they can meet Financial Fair Play requirements, continuing the process of making the squad younger, finding a way of increasing their matchday income (whether by renegotiating the San Siro deal or coming up with a plan for a new stadium) and getting a coach who can provide some level of stability and sanity in the medium-term, while fitting in to the overall project (assuming such a thing still exists).
Instead, Inter seems to be reverting to its basket case status. And while going retro may be cool in some quarters, in this case, it's a big mistake.