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 alive and well on the pages of Sempreinter.com.
The news trickled through sporadically, rumours had been swirling around social networks and whispered in footballing circles since Mancini had been spotted at the ill-fated Parma match, but confirmation was not immediately forthcoming. Then suddenly it was all over. Confirmation came through that Walter Mazzarri had been relieved of his duties and Nerazzurri faithful could let out a collective sigh of relief. He was gone. Every dismally slow, drawn out match had been another nail in his coffin, turning a few thousand more fans against the ex Napoli trainer. In the end Erik Thohir had no choice but to move the team on or face a full scale mutiny from the fans.
It wasn’t long before his successor was also revealed. Roberto Mancini. The man generally credited with finally turning Inter into the force that it became over a glorious six year period. It was the name that many wanted to hear. A man who knew Inter, knew what they were and what they could be. In the minds of fans he was the man to take the team forward. To turn them from a group of young underachievers to champions, but it was not just Inter fans who greeted news of his appointment with something approaching euphoria. A little way down the road serial bandwagon jumpers Juventus were also raising their hands to the sky at the news, thanking whatever God who had bought Mancini back to Internazionale. The perpetual history re-writers who still hold previous owner Luciano Moggi up as the pinnacle of football martyrdom see this appointment as a chance to right a historical wrong and it was not long before Juventus supporters from high profile to anonymous were shouting out about the opportunity to show that Mancini was nothing more than a chancer, building a career out of their own injustice.
So what can Inter supporters expect from the return of the man who bought them so much but left under an almost satirical cloud, stemming from the inability to get his team to perform in Europe as they did in Italy. Will he be the one who can take the stuttering Nerazzurri race car and get the engine roaring again or is he simply a man who came to Inter at the right time and took advantage of all that was happening in the Serie A?
Mancini begins his second spell in charge of Inter with something approaching a baptism of fire. After a couple of weeks to indulge in the goodwill and love of the Inter faithful he will have to face off against arch rivals Milan in the seasons first derby. If that prospect alone wasn’t enough to get pulses racing he will also face a match against title chasing Roma, a team that has gone in the opposite direction to Inter in the last five years. Mancini will need to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of his squad quickly if he is to get his second era off to a strong start. History says he can do this. Mancini has proven himself to be an excellent builder of teams. In his first stint at Inter he took over a team packed full of precocious talent but lacking perhaps the consistency and cohesion needed to challenge at the top. He bought in, amongst others, Estaban Cambiasso and Dejan Stankovic to strengthen the midfield while, following his first season, he let go some of the more talented but wildly inconsistent players such as Emre Belözoglu and Andy van der Meyde, and some old favourites who were perhaps past their best such as Christian Vieri and Edgar Davids. The result was a much more balanced and cohesive squad that, under his guidance, would become the core of Mourinho’s triplet winners. His time at Man City saw him undertake a similar task, inheriting a team built by the dreams of several different managers, assessing the areas of strength and weakness, removing the players who did not fit and replacing them with players that worked.
With this in mind, and knowing that there is still two months before any movements can be made in the market, Mancini will probably be rather open minded about what formation to use. He has shown in his career that he is tactically flexible, usually utilising four at the back, but prepared to play three if necessary. Given the timing of his take over he will probably begin rather conservatively until his team understand his thought process so look for a 4-3-1-2 or the old ‘Inter diamond’ of 4-1-2-1-2 that was regularly used in his first term as manager. Both formations offer defensive strength, strong counter attacking threat and also decent flexibility. What Mancini will not do however, is fall into the trap that eventually cost Mazzarri his job. He will not live and die by one formation, but rather utilise several systems which can be utilised depending on the match and situation.
Mancini has also shown he can get the best out of his ‘chosen’ players. He is not generally known as a big rotator of his team. He will discover his best line-up and generally use it as often as possible. He will have his favoured players, and anyone not in that group will normally only see action when an injury comes up or during cup matches. This can have mixed effects, on the one hand creating continuity for those players in the team, they learn each others movements and habits, and can therefore form a more cohesive unit; on the other it can cause players on the outer to become frustrated, which is fine if results are going well, but becomes an issue if they are not. Mancini generally disregards reputation when selecting his team and will be quick to stamp his authority on the squad.
So far so good for Inter but there remains several question marks about Mancini’s second coming that no doubt Juventus fans will be hoping will turn into open wounds for the Nerazzurri. Firstly he is renowned for his prickly nature and often cold attitude towards his players. At Man City, he was often considered distant and aloof. Former kitman at City Stephen Aziz called him “Arrogant, vain, self-centred no manners ignorant” following the manager’s sacking from City; while the best way to describe the reaction from his former City charges at his sacking would be cold compassion for their former manager. Rumours of dressing room bust ups also regularly appeared in newspapers, particularly after losing high pressure games, no doubt after some choice words from a manager not renowned for holding back.
There is also a question mark over Mancini when it comes to the most high pressure matches. His record in the Champions League flatters to deceive at both Inter and Man City having never made it past the Quarter Finals with either team, despite the large investment made in both teams during the time. Then there was the famous, back from the dead Man City home win over QPR which secured the Premier League title for the club for the first time in 44 years. Despite being at home to a team lurking on the edge of relegation, City only managed to secure the win after scoring twice in added time, and only after QPR realised that they had escaped relegation and quite visibly let up. The win was also more based on the individual brilliance of Sergio Aguero rather than anything the manager did. Finally there is perhaps one of the most famous moments of his time at Inter, the fateful shock resignation intention following another disappointing exit from the Champions League at the hands of Liverpool. An announcement that was soon retracted but left the already nervy squad in turmoil according the Zlatan Ibrahimovic that almost saw them throw away a hefty Serie A lead during the 2007/08 season. Mancini had lost his belief and the belief of his players and it almost cost them dear.
So what can Inter fans hope for? Mancini is a man who knows how to build a team, he is tactically astute and understands which players work well together. He is also flexible in his formation and will know exactly what type of player he needs to get the team working. There remain question marks over his often combative relationship with his players and his mental strength under the most intense pressure but given that he has had the opportunity to spend another six seasons abroad learning his craft it would be hard to believe he has not strengthened this area of his game. Perhaps most importantly his appointment will act as a conduit to bring the fans back to focussing on the team rather than a roundly disliked manager, as Mazzarri was. The focus can return to giving support to the eleven players on the pitch which can only help the team move forward to greater heights. I for one can only welcome Mancini back to the fold and hope his return marks the real beginning to Inter’s resurgence.
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