‘Friends of Syria’ undermine Geneva II

"Friends of Syria" conference in Tunisia

The ‘friends of Syria’ at a press conference. They are yet to offer a solution for the crisis in Syria that is based on reality.

Despite the trumpeting over the destruction of chemical weapons temporarily distracting the world from the war in Syria, it  inevitably rumbles on. The killing of both soldiers and civilians continues unabated with many terrible war crimes still half hidden behind an all encompassing veil of death. The Syrian government’s willingness to compromise over their chemical weapons stash had led to hopes of further progress at the negotiating table that would lead to an end to the suffering and a solution to the conflict that still threatens to throw the region into another sea of fire. Following the clumsy, arrogant meeting of the so-called ‘friends of Syria‘ however, this hope has been ground like so many lives in this embattled country, into dust. Continue reading

It is the inevitability that hurts the most.

Fiorentina’s players celebrate another goal in their 1-5 win over Pescara, it would not be enough

As the Fiorentina players finished off their stunning 5-1 win over Pescara which gave them the best possible opportunity to secure third place and the elusive final Champions League spot, word came through that Milan, in the 84th minute of their match against Siena, had scored to tie the game 1-1. Fiorentina were still in the final spot but there was a sense of resignation about the turn of events. Moments later and Milan scored the winner to secure a remarkable, almost unbelievable turnaround to secure the final cherished spot. For Fiorentina’s players there was an obvious disappointment but also a strange resignation. When word of how the first Milan goal was scored it was even more pronounced. The first vital goal had come from a foul on Mario Balotelli. A ball had been floated into the box from the left. It was a poor ball some ten metres too far in front of the Milan strikers and clearly going out for a goal kick. Balotelli was entering the box under some pressure from the Siena defender, the pressure was no more than you would see on virtually every other occasion with this type of cross, a little tussling as one man moved forward while the other tried to stay with him. Seeing he had absolutely no chance to get to the ball, Balotelli took a chance, falling rather theatrically to the floor. There was no way, NO WAY, that it was a penalty. He was nowhere near the ball, the contact was nothing more than two players tussling through close marking, it was just ridiculous. But it was given, Milan scored and they went on to win. Continue reading

Real fail to repair the damage done

It is highly unlikely that Mourinho will grace the Madrid bench next season.

Despite scoring two late goals to give themselves a 2-0 win on the night it was not enough for Mourinho’s men to steal the tie from a tenacious, vibrant young Dortmund team who now proceed to the Champions League final 4-3 on aggregate. On the basis of the two legs it was undoubtably the German side who deserved to go through after dominating the first leg and spurning several good opportunities in the second. That is not to say that Real Madrid did not have their chances. Had their misfiring strikers been a little more accurate or actually offered anything more than a few lazy runs and sloppy passes things might have been different. In the end it was a Benzema tap in and a Sergio Ramos beauty that won them the game but several tactical and personnel errors that cost them the tie. Continue reading

Inter Milan: Rebuilding an Italian legend.

Only a few seasons ago Internazionale were the beacon of Italian football, straddling Europe and the globe after winning the UEFA Champions League, Serie A and Coppa Italia in the same season. As the other teams on the peninsula languished in the repercussions of scandals and corruption, Inter held the torch, pulling the rest of Italian football along behind it. A mere three seasons later their team lies battered and worn on the sidelines, roughed up in Europe’s second competition, the Europa League and slipping down the Serie A table at an alarming pace, perhaps most worryingly their team is a mere shadow of its former selves, stripped of its stars and filled with cannon fodder and coached by a man whose credentials as a young savior are looking more and more thin. What went wrong? How did this giant of Italian and world football slip so far so fast? And what needs to be done to restore it to its peak, despite the hammer blows of financial fair play,  a poor Italian economy and a league that is so poorly run that it is surprising they manage to put together a fixture list that works.

Stramaccioni struggles to find much to smile about nowadays and unless there is a dramatic turnaround he will no longer be in the Inter hot seat next season. 

The decisions and actions that have caused such a rapid decline at Internazionale are many and diverse and I will therefore look at them one by one. These are the things that I think are the main problems that have affected the club but are far from being the only problems. PLease note that I have not put these in any particularly order

The joy of Inter’s Champions League win seems an eternity ago.

Poor transfer policy: It is something of a cop-out to point the finger first at transfer policy but at Inter this has been the source of all evil. A quick look at the team of a few years ago that won the Champions League and this one paints a picture of failure, lack of vision and mismanagement. World Class players from this great squad including Julio Cesar, Maicon, Lucio, Sneijder, Eto’o and Thiago Motta have been sold along with young stars Balotelli and Santon. In reality it is hard to argue with this as the introduction of Financial Fair Play meant that Inter could no longer afford to pay the massive salaries these players enjoyed and many of these players had already peaked and were becoming expensive albatross’ hanging around the neck of the Nerazzurri. With most in agreement that many of these players had to be moved on, the problems arose in both the incredibly poor way this was handled and the efforts that were made to replace them. Under severe financial constraints no one expected world-class players to arrive but there were more than a few eyebrows raised when a mass of cheap, average players started arriving at the club such as Silvestre, Periera, Jonathan, Schelotto, Mudingayi, Kuzmanovic and Rocchi. None of these players are particularly bad but none would get a look in at most top four club in the major leagues. They were all between 24 and 35 so not particularly young; none were the stars of their team and none has really showed anything more than what you would expect, solid but unspectacular.

The signing of Rocchi perhaps symbolizes the inadequacy of Inter’s transfer policy 

The squad quickly became bloated by players who were not of the quality required and who could not provide anything extra to the team. Others transfers were more successful such as Cassano, Palacio and Guarin but in the case of the first two they are both on the wrong side of thirty and are surely only a short-term solution while the third is about as consistent as England’s summer weather, mixing matches where he is a force of nature with ones where he seems unable to understand the basic concepts of what is supposed to be happening.

Another one that got away: Philippe Coutinho has been lighting up Anfield with some excellent performances. 

Only the addition of Mateo Kovacic shows signs of a team looking to the future for players with potential to be world-class, he is only a young man but show signs of developing into something special if Inter manage to nurture him properly, something they have so far failed to do with young players; unfortunately even in his case, one must remember that Inter’s finest young player, Phillipe Coutinho was sacrificed to bring him in. Coutinho is now setting Anfield alight with his pace, trickery and excellent passing. Something could have done with. Most Inter fans would agree that the prospect of Kovacic and Coutinho in the same team would have been a great prospect for the club. Sadly it is not to be.

Despite the poor way his transfer was handled, Wesley Sneijder will always be remembered as a legend to the club’s fans. 

Another major disaster in the area of transfers was the handling of Wesley Sneijder. Once the clubs golden boy, Sneijder had struggled to recreate the form that saw him voted one of the top three players in the world in 2010, losing out to Lionel Messi in what was widely considered a controversial decision. Injuries, motivational problems and the clubs need to reduce its wage bill took its toll and by 2012 it became inevitable that Sneijder would be sold or forced to take a pay cut. Instead however, of putting Sneijder in the shop window by playing him when he was fit, the club took the bizarre decision of forcing him to sit on the sidelines until he agreed to either sign a new reduced contract or to be sold. Not only did this make Inter appear unprofessional, and fire warning shots to any top player looking to more there, it devalued perhaps the clubs most valuable asset. Across Europe it was know that Inter would basically accept anything for their player just to get him off their books. Had they played him it would have provided the opportunity for clubs to remember how good he actually was and encourage them to open their wallet a little more.

Future Star?: Kovacic will need to buck the trend in regards to youth success at Inter if he is to make it at the club. 

Lack of faith in youth: When Stramaccioni was signed up there was a lot of hoopla about how he would usher in a new wave of Inter youth. He would be the man who would finally integrate the young talent in the academy into the first team, something that had not happened previously. Inter were notorious for letting go of young talent only to see them blossom elsewhere. Prime examples are Andrea Pirlo, Leonardo Bonucci, Mattias Destro, Mario Balotelli and Davide Santon amongst others. With Inter investing more in the academy and with the success of the club in the inaugural NextGen series hopes were high that Inter fans would finally see the young stars graduate to the first team. Unfortunately this has not been the case. After an excellent start where many younger players got game time and matches were won, Stramaccioni seemed to choke. He reverted to type, putting all his faith in experience and leaving the youth players to rot on the bench. The players who won him the NextGen series were consigned to play only in the UEFA cup as Stramaccioni refused to risk matches on their raw talent. Things became worse in January when the clubs best young player, Phillipe Coutinho was sold to Liverpool for around 10 million Euros and a number of other top talent such as Lavaja, Bessa, Duncan, Bianchetti and Romano were all loaned out in favour of older players who were not particularly good. This mistrust in youth is nothing new under the Moratti regime. There has been a chronic lack of faith for years and despite quotes stating a new Inter it is clear by the signings being made and the substitutes made by the coach that there is no real intention to use the youth available. Only Juan Jesus and perhaps Kovacic have seen any consistent action, with Benassi only occasionally getting a run.

After an excellent start to his career at Inter, Stramaccioni is struggling to implement a consistent system and identity to the team.

Coaching: When Andrea Stramaccioni was named new Inter coach there was a renewed sense of hope amongst Interisti. Since the Champions League win the club had gone into a free fall, coaches sacked and replaced, player discontent and a surprising lack of structure within the team. Stramaccioni offered a sense of renewal, of hope, of a new way. At the start of the 2012/2013 season this hope appeared well founded as the young coach turned back the clock and took Inter rapidly up the Serie A table. Youngsters were getting a chance and there was a promise that this was the start of something special. Inter’s three-man defence was working well and the team appeared to be ready to make a Scudetto challenge. Following the win over Juventus however the wheels have completely fallen off. Stramaccioni appears to have lost faith in his own plans and ability, constantly changing tactics, formations and players. Confidence has plummeted as the results worsened and the teams now resembles a relegation struggler. The last few games have seen Inter completely dominated in the first half, seemingly sent out to play with no coherent tactics or plan. The second halves have been an improvement but still lack the fluency of a team sure of their ability. This suggests that Stramaccioni has no idea what his best formation or tactics are. Players are sent out unsure of what they are doing and are swiftly overrun by well organised and structured opposition. Stramaccioni seems able to adjust his play to counter opponents play in the second half, bringing better security but a team of Inter’s size should be dictating play, not countering what opponents are doing. It is clear that the coach is doubting himself and the players are sensing this uncertainty.

Bologna’s players celebrate the winning goal, giving them a rare win over a lacklustre and disorganised Inter at the San Siro

The lack of positive results has also had a detrimental effect on the young players in the club as Stramaccioni turns to the veterans to help get him out of the quagmire. He has turned his back on the very thing that got him the job and this is perhaps his most fatal flaw. Many of the senior players, and new signings for that matter, are either past their best and unable to influence matches as they once did, or are simply not good enough to make an impact. They also do not offer the enthusiasm and determination that younger players looking to make their mark do.

This combination of no clear strategic identity leaving players confused and unsure of their roles, lack of faith in the youth available and complete failure in confidence has left Inter looking and playing like a team struggling to remain in the first division. They are all things that are directly related to the coach and his staff and therefore he must be held responsible for them.

Marco Branca, Inter Milan’s technical director has been the focal point of fan dissatisfaction for some time. 

No club strategy: Since Jose Mourinho left Inter Milan to join Barcelona in 2010, Inter Milan has had five different managers; Rafa Benetiz, Leonardo, Gian Piero Gasperini, Claudio Ranieri and Stramaccioni. None has been able to show that they are capable of handling a club like Inter Milan and all have fallen by the wayside (Stramaccioni will need a miracle to survive.). The result of this is a new coach arriving bringing new ideas, new strategies and new demands to the club. Some will want to play defensively, others aggressively, some with a short passing possession game while others a counter attacking style reliant on speed and accuracy. Whatever the tactics and ideas of the new coach this all means change both in the way the club thinks and the players that will be required. A star player under one coach may be marginalised and released under another. This perennial lack of a club strategy has been the bane of Inter for decades, perhaps since they were renowned for their ultra defensive Catenaccio style football under Herrera in the 60’s. The club have failed to find a style of football that suits the clubs ‘personality’ and needs and this has resulted in tens of millions of Euros being wasted and a severe lack of silverware. A quick look around Europe will show that clubs with stability of playing style generally have more success. The most obvious is Barcelona with their possession football, but Man United have been playing quick, wing based counter attacking football for a long time, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid play in a similar way, even smaller clubs such as Swansea in England have benefited from this stability in style.  They decided that they would play a certain way, searched for coaches with a similar attitude, bought players suited to it and have only seen success since then. Even city rivals Milan have their attack based style that they use as a platform to base their recruitment strategies on. It is no coincidence that Inter saw such magnificent success under Mancini and Mourinho, two coaches who both favoured building from the back with a strong defence, who both favoured quick counter attacking and both of whom demanded a lot of control over how things were done. After Mourinho left Rafa Benetiz tried to reinvent the wheel and they soon fell off completely. At the moment Inter Milan resembles an orphan child who has been passed from family to family. Lacking stability he has lost his confidence and is languishing. He needs someone to take him in, give him structure and patterns and guide him toward a successful future.

‘Rafa’ Benetiz was the first of five managers to manage Inter after Mourinho. His reign was short-lived after his attempts to reinvent the wheel failed dramatically. 

A poor playing roster: This is indeed related to the disastrous transfer policy but it deserves its own section. Put simply Inter do not have the playing roster to compete with top clubs anymore. Unfortunately however, not only is the roster bad but the potential of the roster is even worse suggesting that things will not get any better with the players we have. Perhaps this is best highlighted by the fact that we have some eight Argentinian players, none of which are deemed good enough for the national team! For a team the size of Inter that is astounding! The roster is now filled with players with playing careers which are marked only by how average they are or players who were great but are on the wrong side of their peak. Players such as Silvestre, Jonathan, Schelotto, Alvarez, Mudingayi, Kuzmanovic and Gargano will never reach the upper echelons of the football world, they are good players in their own right but are not of Inter quality now and probably never will be; while Zanetti, Samuel, Chivu, Stankovic, Cambiasso, Palacio, Cassano and Milito have all fingertips edging toward the promise of retirement and putting their feet up at their Lake Como mansions.  That doesn’t leave much in between. I would rate only Handanovic, Nagatomo and Guarin as Inter, or potentially Inter quality while Rannocchia and Pereira are on the fence. Juan Jesus, Kovacic and Joel Obi, represent players with the potential to be great, if they managed to avoid getting dragged down into the mire of instability that is rampant in the club.

Christian Chivu: Something of a club legend but one that most fans were surprised to see retained, given his propensity for random acts of madness.

The squad has been weakened year on year by poor decisions, the sale of Coutinho perhaps the most obvious of these, and unless some stability and structure arrives then it will not be long before the club returns to the dark days of the 80’s and 90’s but with the added inconvenience of FFP preventing Moratti from splashing his cash on marquis signings.

Although things are far from rosy at the moment and even a run of victories at the moment would only paper over the gaping holes at the club, there are several things that can be done to redeem the situation and set the club back on track to rejoin Europe’s elite. Read these in the my next blog!

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.