What happened to Inter Milan’s youth policy?

Only a few months ago, with the appointment of Andrea Strammaccioni as Inter Milan’s new head coach, there was a promise made to Inter Milan fans. A promise that youth would be finally allowed to flourish at the Milan based club after years of neglect. A promise that seems to have been left in the dust as the search for a top three finish heats up.

Rodrigo Palacio has been good but at 30 was he really a solution for an Inter supposedly looking toward youth?

In the wake of the almost unbelievable success in the NextGen series by Inter’s often unheralded youth academy there seemed to be a long awaited for change in the wind. The victory seemed to finally convince Massimo Moratti of a new course. Financial Fair Play meant that he could no longer bank roll the club’s marquis signings and efforts was now needed in not only identifying bargains in the transfer market but also nurturing the  players that were coming through the academy. The signing of youth team coach Andrea Stramaccioni as the first team coach was the first indication of this new policy. It was an appointment that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago but it symbolised a new chapter for Inter. A new beginning.

Leonardo Bonucci in Juve colours. He should have been the centrepiece for Inter’s defence for a decade. 

Many of the club legends, the Brazilian triumvirate of Julio Cesar, Maicon and Lucio among them, were shipped out, relieving the team of a massive financial burden and the clubs fans looked forward to signing some of the brightest young talents in the game. Players who would compliment the core of senior players who would remain but also who would not hinder the development of the players coming through. Instead we got another batch of players either in their prime or about to go past it. Don’t get me wrong some of these signings were excellent and much needed but in terms of long term strategy seemed completely wrong. Going through them highlights the lack of thought:

Tommaso Rocchi: The latest indication that Inter are not prepared to ‘gamble’ on youth but trust experience

Rodrigo Palacio (30) was bought in for 10 million, seemingly because he had been a target for years. He has been solid and scored goals but has also missed a lot. He also plays in a position that Inter have many younger players available in (Coutinho, Alvarez, Bessa to name a few). He will have a very small, if any resale value.

Fredy Guarin (26) also cost about 10 million euros and despite some less than flattering performances early on has settled into an attacking midfield roll and looks good, although I still harbour doubts about his mental ability to remain focussed for an entire match. Looks to be a decent signing.

Matias Silvestre (27): A player bought in to shore up the defence and has looked completely out of his league. Thankfully only bought in on loan. Responsible for several Chivuesque blunders and will leave when his loan expires. For me took valuable playing time from younger players.

Samir Handanovic (27): Perhaps the best signing we made, massively reduced salary in comparisons to Cesar’s and has not let anyone down. At 27 still has at least 7 good years in front of him and good resale value.

Gaby Mudingayi (30): Another loan signing. Physical and tough has been excellent when playing and added much needed steel to the midfield. Inter’s worst run also coincided with his injury layoff. Still at 30 offers no resale value and maybe 2 good seasons max. A team looking to the future would probably looked elsewhere.

Antonio Cassano (29): Another player who has impressed and whom we actually got paid to bring in! On his own a great signing but when combined with Palacio simply removed most avenues for young players to get regular time.

Walter Gargano (27): In on loan and has not let anyone down. But another player in his peak rather than one for the future. Will simply force another young talent out on loan.

Alvaro Pereira (26): A decent age, has been inconsistent and at the moment seems a fairly uninspiring signing. Could come good but the next two or three seasons will be vital. Doesn’t look like a future world beater to me.

Tommaso Rocchi (34): Bought in to add depth to the squad and has already seen more game time than most youth players. To me shows that Inter are still stuck in the old ways.

Philippe Coutinho: A little over a year ago was heralded as one of the world’s top young players but now appears on the outer at Inter

So no players under 26 bought in despite this apparent push for youth. What is more worrying is that not only are Inter persisting in bringing in older players of a lesser quality than in years gone by but they are looking to offload some of their best young players to fund it. Rumours are rife that both Ricky Alvarez and Philippe Coutinho are in line to be sold to fund other purchases, joining the long line of talent wasted by Inter in years past including Andrea Pirlo, Leonardo Bonucci, Mattias Destro, Davide Santon and Mario Balotelli amongst others. I can imagine seeing young Coutinho, a player of undoubted quality, turning up at some point at Barcelona heralded as one of the world’s top players, leaving the world to turn its attention once more to Inter and wonder, ‘what were you thinking?’

Mattias Destro now playing for Roma was a star at youth level and always destined to succeed.

Unfortunately Inter appear unwilling to allow a young player the same leeway that the older more experienced players are gifted. After all who can count the amount of blunders Chivu has made in the defence, blunders that have cost the team vitally important matches, yet he continues to bounce around in an Inter shirt putting in tackles better suited to the UFC; then there is Milito, a great striker but one who, when off form, could fill a blooper reel with his misses; Palacio too has had some shocking misses while Jonathan appears more at home in the wilderness than a football pitch he is so lost. Still these players are given chance after chance. The youth of Inter; Coutinho, Lavaja et al, one mistake and it is back to the bench.

Marko Livaja: A player highly regarded but pushed further down the pecking order by the arrival of Rocchi.

If Inter want to move forward, if they want to continue to compete on the highest level, they have to learn to have faith in their players. Young players need confidence and playing time and if given both they will flourish. A perfect example is el Shaarawy. With Zlatan at the club chances were at a premium and many questioned if he was up to standard, once the Swede left the youngster was given regular playing time and has repaid the faith and then some. Coutinho too proved a revelation when on loan at Espanyol and bought back to Inter a renewed confidence. After a promising start to the season however, this soon evaporated and he is now likely to be sold. Barcelona has been rewarding talent for the last 7 years, most German clubs are prepared to throw their young talent into the mix early, even many English clubs are now getting involved. It is time for Inter to join them, after all this youth academy won the NextGen series against some of the best academies around, the talent is there to be harnessed but the willingness to harness it must also be there or Inter’s Primavera will become the feeder for some of the world’s biggest clubs and Inter’s fans will have to continue watching their youngsters plying their trade for rivals. Inter need to bite the bullet and give some of these guys a chance on a regular basis, trust in their ability and maintain that trust even if they struggle to begin with. Failing to do this will see the club struggle to maintain its place in the top tier of world football.

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