A poor start to the season has placed Inter's Frank De Boer in a perilous position, but Paddy Agnew can see a case for turning things around.
So, Inter are about to change their coach again, are they? When Inter lost 2-1 away to Atalanta yesterday, this represented not only their third consecutive league defeat but also their sixth defeat in 12 Serie A and Europa League games so far this season. This wretched start sees them sitting joint 14th in the Serie A table, closer to the relegation zone than the Champions League zone
Lest Inter’s Dutch coach Frank De Boer did not understand just how dismal results like these might be perceived in Italy, experienced football writer Andrea Sorrentino summed it up in Monday’s Rome daily La Repubblica:
“If Inter had an Italian owner or a managing director with real powers of decision who lived in Italy, all the time, then Frank De Boer would right now be packing his bags and he would have a one way ticket for Amsterdam in his pocket…”
It is hard to disagree with Sorrentino. Past experience would suggest that Inter (and other “biggies” of Italian football) have a very limited patience with a losing coach. Since the magical year of 2010 when Inter lifted the Serie A-Champions League-Italian Cup treble, the club has employed eight coaches in six years.
Prior to the last minute, surprise appointment this summer of Dutchman De Boer, men such as Spaniard Rafa Benitez, Brazilian Leonardo and Italians Gian Piero Gasperini, Claudio Ranieri, Andrea Stramaccioni, Walter Mazzari and Roberto Mancini had all sat on the hot bench at Inter since 2010. The ironic and obvious consideration is that some of these guys are no duffers, rather coaches (Benitez, Ranieri and Mancini) who along the way have won Spanish and Premiership titles as well as the Champions League.
Further irony comes from the fact that the Atalanta coach on Sunday was a certain Gasperini, who was recording his fourth win over Inter in the last three seasons (the other three wins were as coach of Genoa). At Inter, Gasperini had lasted only a couple of months, sacked after losing four and drawing one of his first five official games with Inter in the 2011-2012 season.
If some of the above parting of the ways were perhaps premature, would it not be equally premature to now offload De Boer, a coach engaged only in early August when it became clear that no amount of marriage counselling was going to keep Roberto Mancini “wedded” to Inter? Would it not make more sense to persevere with De Boer, making allowances for the fact that he has never coached anywhere other than Ajax Amsterdam before and that he was propelled into the hot seat with a set of players not of his choosing?
Perhaps the powers at Inter might like to reflect that yesterday, after a poor first half, Inter got back into the game, losing only to a late penalty, the result of a clumsy tackle by defender Davide Santon. One of the most disappointing elements about yesterday’s defeat is that it came three days after Inter had struggled to an admittedly far from impressive 1-0 home win against Southampton in the Europa League.
That victory had suggested that De Boer might finally be about to halt the losing tide. Now, it remains to be seen what Inter’s Chinese (Sunning Holdings Group Co.) and Indonesian (Erick Thohir) owners will opt to do. For the time being, Italian media speculation suggests that Italians such as ex-Lazio coach Stefano Pioli, ex-Verona coach Andrea Mandorlini and ex-Swansea coach Francesco Guidolin head an Inter “wish list” that also includes Frenchman Laurent Blanc and Brazilian Leonardo.
Whilst Inter flap around in some difficulty, their cross-town rivals, Milan, registered their best result of the season last Saturday night, defeating champions Juventus 1-0 in a game in which the spectacular winning goal was scored by Manuel Locatelli, an exciting product of the club’s youth team system. Given that Roma also won, picking up their third consecutive win with a 4-1 home defeat of Palermo, Juventus suddenly look “normal”, just two points clear of joint seconds, Roma and Milan.
Spare a thought for Napoli, 2-1 winners away to bottom club Crotone. Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri must be wondering just what he has to do to stabilize his attack. Having lost Argentine Gonzalo Higuain to Juventus in the mid-summer transfer market, the club replaced him with Pole Arkadiusz Milik. After a brilliant start, Milik has however been ruled out for the next three to four months by a cruciate ligament, knee injury picked up during Poland’s 3-2 World Cup qualifier win over Denmark earlier this month.
Up stepped Manolo Gabbiadini to replace Milik. He however managed to get himself sent off after only half an hour against Crotone yesterday, in the process probably ruling himself out of next Saturday night’s big game, away to Juventus. Ah well, at least Napoli came back from the disappointment of a midweek Champions League 2-3 defeat at home to Turkish side Besiktas. For all of the above, all is still to play for and these remain early days in the season.
Final consideration concerns the champions Juventus. One would suggest that talk of a “crisis” in Turin in the wake of their defeat by Milan is just a tad premature. Not only did they have a perfectly valid first half goal from Miralem Pjanic overruled but they could also claim that they were still feeling the effects of their 1-0 midweek Champions League away win against Lyon. That latter game, too, was ominous. Juve played badly, conceded a penalty (missed, fortunately for them) and had a man sent off but still won 1-0. Ominous, no?