The year had started off with so much promise until it continuously unraveled with the ferocity of a shit storm on steroids like so many things in the wretched Year of our Lord 2016.
Inter were sitting at the top of the Serie A table after a 1-0 win over Empoli – one point ahead of Fiorentina – in the first week of January when all was still right with the world.
Davie Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Prince were alive, Britain was still a part of the European Union and a narcissistic business mogul with a fake pompadour was a 50/1 underdog heading into the first Republican Primary. Times were good until suddenly they weren’t.
The Winter of our Discontent
A disappointing 1-0 loss to Sassuolo at San Siro on Matchday 19 was a harbinger of things to come as Inter registered just one win over their next six matches to effectively end their title dreams.
Any hopes of scudetto glory were dashed for good after a 2-0 setback to Juventus at the end of February. The Nerazzurri were dead and buried before the Ides of March could finish the job.
Inter limped to a fourth-place finish – 13 points behind Roma – to miss out on a coveted Champions League spot once again.
Summer of Love Turns Chaotic
An air of optimism permeated around Appiano Gentile as the club boasted the same manager for the second successive summer, a feat they had been unable to accomplish in over five years.
Inter made a huge splash in the summer transfer market by signing Antonio Candreva, Joao Mario, Ever Banega and Gabriel Barbosa. It was an impressive haul and expectations were high heading into the season before Inter did what Inter do best: Self destruct.
Robert Mancini was unceremoniously shown the exit door due to fractious relationship with the club’s new owners and the Nerazzurri brought in Frank de Boer – man who neither knew the league nor the language – three weeks before the start of the new campaign.
It was a blueprint for disaster and the Dutchman was duly relieved of his duties after just 84 days despite an encouraging 2-1 win over Juventus in the middle of September.
A Fall Full of Drama
Life at Inter can resemble a soap opera on a continuous loop. Lather, rinse and repeat. So it came as no surprise when an incident that was so silly in nature but held serious implications threatened to engulf the club.
The Curva Nord turned on Inter captain Mauro Icardi for a passage in his autobiography about an incident involving the ultras. Both sides disagreed on each other’s version of events. The episode grew so contentious that the Curva declared Icardi was “dead to them” and cheered a missed penalty by the captain in the 2-1 loss to Cagliari on Oct. 16.
Stefano Pioli – the third manager in less than four months – was brought in to right the ship on Nov. 8 and after a shaky start has Inter heading in the right direction. The Nerazzurri have won three consecutive Serie A matches to leave Interisti cautiously optimistic heading into 2017.
Here are a few things we learned about Inter in 2016:
Icardi is the real deal
Inter’s captain has cemented his status as one of the most clinical strikers in Europe over the last calendar year. Icardi’s shot conversion rate was a sparkling 30.6 percent during the 2015-16 season, ahead of the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Icardi has continued where he left off by scoring 14 Serie A goals in 18 games to lead the race for the Capocannoniere and is showing no signs of slowing down. The 23-year-old has accounted for half of Inter’s goals in domestic play and it was a stroke of good fortune that the Nerazzurri were able to hang on to their best player amid the chaos of confusion of 2016.
Icardi brings a lot of off-the-field baggage but once he steps on to the pitch he’s as good as they come.
Appiano Gentile is where managers come to die
Inter have gained a well-deserved reputation for being a graveyard for managers young and old alike. The Nerazzurri have employed nine different full-time bosses since Jose Mourinho left for Madrid in the summer of 2010.
There have been four different managers on the touchline in the last four months if you count interim boss Stefano Vecchi, and it’s exactly this rate of unsustainable turnover that has stopped Inter from reaching their potential.
The Nerazzurri now have the players to attain their short-term goal of qualifying for the Champions League but it’s up to the club to create a stable environment to allow them to do it.
Are the inmates are running the asylum?
No one is quite sure who is in charge at the club. Is it Steven Zhang? Is it Erick Thohir? Or is it the players as Stevan Jovetic’s agent publicly insinuated two weeks ago.
“The players choose the lineup,” he said. “The club and directors have behaved in an unprofessional manner.” That seems hard to believe but it’s Inter so anything’s possible. The lack of a true leader has hurt Inter and someone needs to step to the forefront.
In the past we knew who the man in charge was. It was Massimo Moratti. We knew he loved the club, was infatuated with South American left-footers and made some mistakes – some big, some small – over the course of his tenure. But at least we knew who was running the show.
Inter are in the midst of an existential crisis
Are Inter a buying club? A selling club? A club that wants to promote from within? Are Inter still an elite club? Those are questions that they must grapple with internally in find out who they truly are.
The Nerazzurri must choose a path and not just follow it, but believe in it and live it every day. Suning has the potential to be the club’s savior if their rhetoric of restoring Inter to their former glory is to be believed.
Inter don’t need hollow platitudes and empty promises, they need to take action, and soon, or it risks being mired in the mediocrity for the foreseeable future.
Suning seem poised to flex their muscles
Sometimes a leap of faith into the unknown is necessary for one to grow and the unconventional marriage with the Chinese corporation could be Inter’s salvation.
Suning has announced their intention to make the club a major player on the European scene once more and is reportedly ready to splash the cash to make it happen.
Inter probably won’t make any major signings in January due to Financial Fair Play restraints but the summer of 2017 could be one to remember. Only time will tell if this scenario will come to fruition but in the meantime we must put our trust in the first Chinese investor to own a majority stake in a Serie A club in calcio history… for better or for worse.