Good Luck El Capitano!

El Capitano grasps his heel, the wince of pain clearly visible on his face.

I like all Inter fans, most Serie A fans and a lot of general football fans across the world drew in an anxious gulp of air as Javier Zanetti fell to the floor in apparent agony at Palermo’s by-line. The captain is Inter’s titan. The solid mass that the rest of the team and indeed the club is built around and seeing this half man, half machine, fingers drawn over his face shielding his personal pain from the thousands of peering eyes,  sent a shiver down my spine. In a season that has jumped from debacle to humiliation to disgrace to dispair for Inter, including a season long injury to the top striker, a spate of injuries of varying degree to virtually every other member of the squad, a transfer policy that not only saw our brightest youth product leave but also a number of other dumbfounding moves both in and out, and a run of results that have seen Inter go from title challenger to laughing stock, Zanetti has stood out as the one positive in the whole mess, the one symbol that not all at Inter is wrong. But now, after fifteen minutes against Palermo, even that light has been extinguished, Inter’s last symbol of resistance against a season of catastrophe has fallen. All there is to do now is for those few fit to fight, to  do the best they can until the season’s end and to ignore the shattered wreckage that lies cast about them. Continue reading

What to do with Suarez.

Can you hear me? Suarez laps up the love from the Kop

Liverpool have been through a lot in the last ten years; several catastrophic managers, player flops and scandals. They have gone from perennial champions of England and Europe to top half of the table strugglers. By almost every indicator this period will not be remembered fondly by the supporters of one of England’s greatest clubs. One bright spot, aside from the somehow managing to keep Gerrard at the club, has been the form and goal scoring prowess of Luis Suarez, the mercurial Uruguayan with the quick feet, burst of pace and Bugs Bunny grin. Like van Persie at Arsenal last season he has single-handedly carried the fortunes of the club on his back, scoring goals, making assists and a giving pundits and viewers something to talk about aside from how far the club have fallen. Unfortunately for the club, and as almost every pundit and media personality will tell you over and over and over again, many, if not most, of the headlines he has created haven’t been of the variety the club would have liked. For every dizzying exhibition of close control topped off by a stunning finish there has been a racism scandal; for every slide rule pass to an unseen teammate, a handball, dive or punch. Suarez, like many naturally gifted people possesses both the best and worst of man. The ability to create moments of sheer beauty, unimaginable to most, combined with moments of insane madness, as the frustration of having teammates not able to keep up with his brilliance and opponents who do not respect his gifts enough overwhelms him in moments of sheer stupidity. Former mercurial wunderkind Mario Balotelli is another naturally gifted football player qho often displayed this maddening tendency, one moment the hero, the next the cause of a moment of inexplicable stupidity, but where Balotelli can be likened to Jack Nicolson’s Joker, cartoonish and cheeky but capable of genuine acts of violence; Suarez is undoubtedly the Joker of Heath Ledger. A dark and frustrated presence, capable of acts of insanity bought about as a red mist decends.

I know who I would rather meet in a dark alley

Undoubtedly everyone will be well acquainted with Suarez’s latest indiscretion. The striker took offense at Branislav Ivanovic’s perceived over physicality whilst wrestling for the ball and decided to take a chomp out of his upper arm. Coincidentally it was almost at this very same point in the season a couple of years ago in Holland, whilst playing for Ajax, that Suarez committed almost the exact same crime. It was to be his final act in the Dutch League, as he was given a hefty suspension which ran to the end of the season before he was transferred to Liverpool. One wonders whether history will lay its cards out in the same order once again.

Don’t expect these two to exchange christmas cards any time soon.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this case has been the familiar overblown sense of morality and offense that most major columnists, pundits and commentators have taken. It is as if Suarez himself had talked his way into their respective places of work, hidden in a cupboard waiting for an opportune moment and jumped out, foaming at the mouth and chomping at the bit to snack on their own flesh. They seemed universally delighted at the trauma the incident caused to the institution of Liverpool FC, waxing lyrical about how the club should rid themselves of this talented menace for the sake of its history, how it is almost impossible for the club to stand by their man after this latest insult. It’s as if these writers had sat and watched as their colleagues encroached into their territory with the reporting of the Boston bombing and were determined to prove that they had news also worthy of such hyperbole and emotional fanaticism. Many of the said experts have spoken with dread about Suarez is only harming himself and will look back on his career with something resembling regret when he thinks of his antics. He will become a pariah in footballing circles, the black sheep in the world’s game. Surely such thinking is as mad as the act itself. Even now some of Europe’s top clubs will be licking their lips like sharks circling a lone surfer at the thought of a striker of Suarez’s quality becoming available for a discounted price. These experts weighed in like blind heavy weight boxers swinging haymakers when Carlos Tevez decided he liked the bench more than the pitch, stating his career was over; saying City’s fans would never accept him back; saying how he was doomed to waste his talent in some South American mud patch surrounded by youngsters dreaming of Europe. An apology, a little PR spinning and a couple of goals later however, and all is forgiven and forgotten, and the sea of light blue shirts once again sing the name of the little Argentine. Don’t believe it will be any different with Suarez.

Even at Ajax he gave his prominent front teeth a good working over.

Liverpool will no doubt stand by their man. They know that they are neither in a position to undermine Suarez’s position as the club’s most valuable player by publicly alienating him or devalue their most valuable asset by giving any public indication that he might be sold. They will tread a fine line of publicly condemning his actions whilst handling the problem internally. They will back him to the hilt, talk about what a good man he has and how this incident was one moment of madness because this is all they can do. For all the talk the real damage to the club will be minimal compared to the potential effects of selling him and replacing him with say, Andy Carroll. If Liverpool were a regular Champions League club with a squad full of world class players things would be different but that are not. Like most of these stories it will blow over during the off-season until his next run in with the disciplinary committee will see Sky Sports run through his ‘troubled time in England.’

Is this the man to lead Liverpool’s line should Suarez leave? Most Liverpool fans would hope not.

The final thought on the issue is in regards to Suarez’s mindset itself. The player is undoubtably frustrated at Liverpool’s season and should a reasonable offer come in for him he would no doubt be open to move to a Champions League club, after all, his nature suggests that he is someone who believes he is one of the best and believes he should be playing at the top. At the moment Liverpool cannot offer that. Undoubtably this frustration at being in a team some distance from the top table must be one of the reasons for his brain explosion and one wonders whether subconsciously he bit Ivanovic to make it impossible for Liverpool to keep him, after all it worked once before. Perhaps this one mad action would free him from a club that is stifling his natural ability by surrounding him with players of a lower calibre. Only Suarez himself knows the real reason.

 

Do it. Don’t say it

Following the Serie A match between Cagliari and Internazionale, won 2-0 by the Sardinians, something extraordinary happened. Two goal hero and match winner, Mauricio Pinilla, confessed that he ‘dived’ to win the penalty to open the scoring and sway the match comprehensively in favour of the home team. Pinilla said that as he controlled the ball in the box he “felt the touch (of Inter defender Matias Silvestre and) of course I dived.” A fairly damming statement from the Chilean striker. He went on to say that strikers needed to be “smart to earn it (the penalty)” and that ” whenever you get touched in the box, it is always a penalty.” At first view this is a somewhat crass and unsportsmanlike statement from Pinilla, that he consciously and purposely looked for the penalty and when an opportunity presented itself he ensured he made the most of it. But is it so bad that he has simply said what everyone who watches football anywhere already knows?

Mauricio Pinilla: Too honest for his own good?

Because of his outspoken honesty the incident has been bought to the attention of the Calcio who will review the incident (something that can be done after the fact in Italy) and decide whether Pinilla deserves a suspension for ‘unsportsmanlike behaviour’. I have heard many fans express outrage at Pinilla for cheating his way to a goal but I personally think that his admittance of the fact was wonderful. I am sick of hearing players say they didn’t dive or make a meal of contact when it is blatantly obvious they did. Any striker who makes it to this level MUST have the skills to identify situations where a penalty could occur and when an opportunity presents itself, make sure that the incident is exacerbated to the maximum to ensure it captures the attention of the referee. It is often said that players should try and stay on their feet and fight for the ball when they are fouled in the box, let the referee see the fouls for what they are. It all sounds nice in theory but unfortunately players who do this will often find they are not awarded the penalty they deserve. They will find that play will continue and, in many cases, their efforts to avoid the foul or ride it out rather than go down will result in loss of balance, position or opportunity.

Virtually all top players are able to dive on demand. Here Gareth Bale throws himself to the ground a little prematurely.

Until FIFA and the Football Associations across the globe decide it will bring in post match reviews, video analysts who will look at incidents like dives and hand out suspensions after the fact, there is very little that can be done. Players are paid to do the best for their team, strikers are paid to make the most out of any opportunity they get to score goals. Pinilla should not be punished or scorned for what he has said or even what he has done. In this writers opinion he should be patted on the back and congratulated for being honest about his trade. The fact that this honesty is even being considered for a suspension smacks of the grossest hypocricy. Gamesmanship of this kind the the great white whale in the room, everyone knows it exists, everyone watches it on their screen every week but dare anyone inside the game speak about it or, heaven forbid, confess to taking part in its dark arts, then it is as if pandoras box has been opened.

Robban goes to great lengths to win his side a free kick. Representing his country here he shows he has perfected the high rise dive.

Despite being an Inter supporter myself I hope that Pinilla is not punished in any way for his outspokenness. Football cannot punish the players for speaking about what everyone sees week in week out. It is up to the people who control the game to make sure these things cannot happen, through post match reviews, better refereeing etc rather than punishing the players who partake in these practises for saying they exist. And for those ‘football supporters’ who are feigning anger at what Pinilla has said I challenge you to look at the strikers in you favourite team and tell me honestly that they would not do the same when the stakes are so high because any striker worth anything would.

Platini and his friends claim they do not like diving but Platini himself was know to exacerbate the contact on occasion himself.

Inter Milan: Rebuilding an Italian legend pt 2

In my previous blog I laid out in relative detail what I believed were some of the major problems at Inter Milan at the moment. The club is plagued by uncertainty at the board and coaching level, a transfer policy that changes every time a new coach is appointed, leaving a squad bloated by players who no longer fit the coaches system; and there has been a chronic lack of faith in young players which has led to highly talented men being sold for low prices and excelling elsewhere, often directly at Inter Milan’s expense. With the advent of Financial Fair Play it is essential that Inter start to get their house in order or they risk getting left behind not only at the Champions League table, where it is already evident that Inter cannot compete with England, Germany and Spain’s top team financially, but also in Italy, where Juventus is already clearly out in front and Milan, Roma, Napoli and Fiorentina have shown they are learning lessons faster than the Nerazzurri. In this second part of my blog on Inter Milan I will outline several things that I believe the club can do in order to not just return to the top of the Italian pile but also the European one.

The Glory Years. If Inter are to return to winning ways, Changes must be made.

Create an ‘Inter way’:  Under the Moratti era the club has seen both historic success and extended periods of monumental failure. There have been numerous coaches each bringing their own philosophy, record transfers being paid for world stars, most from Moratti’s own pocket, various tactical systems and large numbers of young players who usually fail to make a dent in the first team. It has been a real rollercoaster in keeping with the history of the club. With Financial Fair Play however, it is time to bring stability. I believe the club need to establish an ‘Inter way’, a style of play and system that reflects the history and feel of the club. This style or system of play should be implemented not just in the first team but in all youth teams, creating a uniform way of playing that will become the signature of Inter. The benifits of this are massive and include:

Coaching: The cost of recruiting coaches, having them implement their own new system, forcing the players to adapt to the system, having players who do not fit this style and recruiting new players needed to play a new way are massive. Should Inter have a standard way of playing any coach bought in, although able to express his own intepretation of it, would need to play inside the general guidelines of the ‘Inter way’. It would also mean, as Barcelona have successfully demonstrated, that coaches can be bought through the ranks, like players, once they are familiar with the ‘Inter way’.

Transfers: With a consistant playing system, recruitment becomes much easier. Players with the required characteristics can be identified and bought in without fear of a new coach changing the system dramatically and demanding a host of new players. Because there would be less need to completely overhaul the squad every year the recruitment team would be able to focus on picking out specific players of exceptional quality to take the team to the next level.

Youth: With a consistant system being introduced through all levels, youth to senior, the transition from the youth ranks to the senior team will become much more fluid. Young players will not have to learn a new system and will simply be able to slot into their position on the field. Because of this less money will need to be invested in bringing in players from the outside.

The creation of an ‘Inter way’ does not mean that everything is set in stone. The coaches can tweak the system of play each season to ensure it remains fresh and suits the players strengths and any innovation that is occuring in football. It simply means that if a new coach comes it they do not simply erase everything the previous manager has done and try to reinvent the wheel. The dangers of this can be seen with the short Benetiz reign, where he came in and tried to stamp his mark on Mourinho’s historic team by demanding a new style of play not suited to his players qualities. The players struggled to adapt, did not suit this style and the team languished.

NextGen Winners: Inter need to fully utilise the talent in their Academy if they are to compete on the biggest stages.

Professionalise the club: One of the charming aspects of Inter is the family vibe it puts out. The Moratti family has a number of members directly involved in the running of the club and Massimo Moratti is the man who makes the final call on most important decisions. This family feel gives the club a cosy, almost local feel to it. Supporters feel like it is their club and that is special. Unfortunately however with Financial Fair Play coming in things have to change. As a fan, Moratti has made a number of decisions based on his heart. An example of this was the holding together of the team that won the Champions League, despite a number of big money offers for some of the players who were moving toward the twilight of their careers. It is almost as if Moratti kept the team together as a reward to the players for doing so well. This decision not to cash in  ending up costing Inter massively over the following seasons. Players motivation levels dropped, injuries became more and more common, and many players found themselves past their peak and on a slippery slope. With Moratti no longer able to keep chipping in millions of his own money to buy players there needs to be a more professional attitude bought into the running of the club. Someone needs to be making the tough calls without having the emotional connection that Moratti clearly does. I believe that Moratti should remain as President but this roll should not carry as much weight. Instead the Managing Director should be running the club and making the business decisions. Making sure that the tough decisions get made and the club is running as smoothly as it can. The model for this is Juventus, probably Italy’s best run club, corruption aside. They have managed to come back from being relegated and losing most of their best players. to being the top side in Italy once more with the best squad, all within only a few years. They also boast a much higher revenue and global appeal than any of their rivals, as well as an impressive new stadium which they own. In the process of re-establishing themselves they have made many tough decisions; letting go of club legend Del Piero and selling players who had helped re-establish them but were no longer part of the vision. Tough decisions that Inter may not have made because of nostalgia.

Massimo Moratti: The beating heart of Inter but sometimes fails to make the tough decisions on sentimental grounds.

A new stadium: In order to compete with the big clubs in Europe, Inter need to build their own stadium. The San Siro is an iconic, and massive, stadium but it is only rented and this lack of ownership see millions of euros that could be going into Inter’s coffers, being lost. It is also shared with arch rivals Milan. Should Inter get their own stadium they can begin to reconstruct the Inter identity. The stadium can become an intergral part of who Inter are. Think Old Trafford and Man United, Camp Nou and Barcelona. The San Siro is iconic in its own right but it is also part Red and Black.

The San Siro: An iconic stadium but just as much Milan as Inter.

 

Renewed focus on scouting the worlds top talent: With the Premier League, Bundesliga, PSG, Real Madrid and Barcelona drawing in ever increasing amounts of money, and the emerging powers of Eastern Europe, including Russia and Ukraine cashed up by monumentally wealthy individuals or companies, the ability of Inter, and most Italian clubs will be greatly diminished. Iti s therefore very vital that Inter become a key destination for the talented youth of the world. The reputation of the club is key to this. Young players will be drawn to a club of Inter’s standing, giving us something of an advantage over many others. We must however, actually do some real scouting, not just try to sign any young players who happens to get their own video on You Tube. It is vitally important that the club cease their current policy of diluting the playing squad with players who are not much more than average and do not have the potential to be much more than that.

I believe that following these steps will bring Inter back to where they belong. By creating a system that suits the clubs history and squad, recruiting coaches who will develop this system, streamlining the system through the youth setup, you create the opportunity for a legacy, without spending the massive amounts needed to keep up with the richest clubs on the continent. Inter need to become smarter and better organised or they risk falling away as a European Power for the forseeable future.

Mateo Kovacic is a player Inter can build a team around, more players of his age and quality must be invested in.

Side note: In regards to the tactical system I would like to see Inter focus on the 4-3-2-1 model, which can be switched to a 4-3-1-2 should the need develop or even a 4-4-2 if opponents are commanding the wide areas. For me this system represents what Inter are to me, solid through the centre, utilising either two playmakers behind a strong central striker, or one playmaker behind two strikers. Inter has never been a club that has had much success with wingers and I think we should move away from this. If we have a deep lying playmaker, Kovacic looks to be developing into this roll well, an aggressive ball winner and a box to box style midfielder, the midfield would have the balance, security and dynasism to dominate. In front of them should be two technical players who can roam in the free space, pull wide to support the fullbacks and support the striker. The striker himself should be strong and technical and a deadly finisher, in the mould of Milito or Vieri. I Believe using this general system as a basis for the future will return Inter to the top of the pile and set it on course for a bright future competeing with the best for trophies.