Mazzarri Salme

In his regular weekly column Inter fanatic Sam Olsen dives deep into the stories that matter to Inter’s fans looking to keep the spirit of discussion and dispute alive and well on the pages of

Confidence is a funny thing. A confident man can face his demons head on with a sure belief that they will overcome, they will not be cowed and they will back themselves to come through bright and shiny afterwards. For those lacking in this vital ingredient the world itself can appear to be the enemy, anything and everything that could go against you does, and once you are in that cycle it is depressingly hard to get out again. For fans of Inter it is clear that the team is facing a crisis of confidence. Shoulders are slumping at the first sign of trouble, uncertainty has filtered through the team bringing catastrophic hesitation with dire consequences, and chances have become few and far between as players worry more about what the opposition are doing than what they should be doing themselves. Overcoming this crisis of confidence will be the key to returning Inter’s season to the right course.

When David Moyes took over the manager’s roll at Manchester United, he believed he was ready to take the job. Sure he was stepping into the shoes of perhaps the greatest manager in football but he was convinced he would be able to keep the winning habit that Manchester United had built up over almost two decades alive and kicking. Less than a season later, dejected and demoralised Moyes trundled out of the training ground one last time. He appeared worn and haggard, the experience of the previous nine months clearly showing in every crease and fold that had appeared on his face. Moyes had underestimated the job that was ahead of him, had underestimated what would be involved, and had underestimated just how significant a part that confidence could play in a team. Ferguson, for all his faults, flaws and misjudgements was a master at man-management. There is no way that he should have been able to win one final title with the team that he left to Moyes but win he did. He shouldn’t have been able to take Aberdeen to victory in the 1982/83 European Cup Winners Cup but somehow he did. Ferguson’s secret was knowing how to get the best out of each of his players, he knew people and he knew how to make them believe they could take on any challenge put in front of them. He knew how to give them confidence.

Rio Ferdinand alluded to this in his biography when he stated that under Moyes United would focus on “drilling to stop” opponents. “There was so much attention to the subject it suddenly became a worry” whereas Ferguson had been about playing the Manchester United way. According to Ferdinand the effect of Moyes’ heavy focus on what the opposition were doing only caused the players to doubt themselves (“they must be fucking good at this to have us spend all this time on it.”). The result was clearing visible on the pitch as United struggled to keep up with the front runners, finishing a dismal 7th. The confidence so carefully and meticulously maintained by Ferguson had been eroded.

The parallels with Inter are quite clear. Like Moyes, Mazzarri appears often more keen on identifying and stopping the opposition strengths rather than establishing his own game. Watching the player’s movements it is quite obvious they are spending as much time trying to follow detailed tactical plans rather than utilising the natural footballing talent that got them to the highest level in the first place. The message seems to be to keep it tight at the back, control the game through low risk football, if possible score an early goal, then when the opposition pushes forward, look for opportunities to counter. There is nothing really wrong with these tactics, they are tried and tested and ideal for clubs looking to avoid relegation and fight for a top half of the table finish. Inter however, are not one of these clubs.

Wesley Sneijder once said that Mourinho “As a coach is incredible, number one. It was he who gave me confidence and I enjoyed playing football like never before.” Mourinho, like Ferguson, is another who understands the tie between success and confidence. He knew that if players are confident they will be happier on the field, they will play with both physical and mental freedom and success will follow. Mourinho’s teams are famous for never giving up, for fighting till the final whistle despite what the scoreboard says. Inter fans witnessed it on numerous occasions; the team down coming into the final minutes of the match, the opposition hanging on in the face of a barrage of Inter attack, the determination and belief that they could get something out of the match which, on most occasions, they did. In Ferguson’s case the English even had a name for these last few minutes; Squeaky bum time. Teams facing United, like teams facing Mourinho’s Inter, knew that they would face a hammering in the final few minutes of a match against United if there were still points on the line. This was no tactical master class from Ferguson or Mourinho, it was purely confidence and belief. The players believed they could do it.

The Sassuolo game aside, watching Inter this season has been a lesson in caution. Against Palermo and Torino, Inter were clearly sent out with defensive tactics, hoping for a win, settling for a draw; the away win in the Europa League was the same, pick up three points if we can but we will settle for one. There was no real attempt to put a stamp on the game only to ensure a clean sheet. Against Cagliari, Mazzarri came up against a manager with a completely contrasting ideology whose team rode roughshod over Mazzarri’s meticulous tactical plan; while Fiorentina simply outplayed a hesitant Inter. Mazzarri’s natural weariness and caution has filtered through to the playing squad, leaving them doubting their own abilities and questioning their natural game. The big question now is whether Mazzarri has the man-management skills to restore the confidence of his players and make them believe that they are in fact on the same level as Juventus and Roma. He has only to look at the work of the current Italy manager Antonio Conte over the last few seasons at Juventus, where he turned around the club’s fortunes by reminding his squad who they are playing for and what that means. Under Conte, Juventus rediscovered their arrogance and swagger, storming back to the top of Serie A. Inter has the squad to fight for the top three this season, they just need the confidence.

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