So retreat time is now over and the team had about ten days to work hard and get a concentrated time together. Considering all the wheeling and dealing being done in the marketplace, I have to say that the team looks rather the same as when we left it 2 months ago. The most notable differences in personnel this summer looks like Rodrigo Palacio up front, the return of Coutinho and the continuous presence of Mbaye, who is shocking everyone with his good play. I think the team needs to get it’s Europa League squad together by the 27th of July to be eligible for the first few rounds of games, so if there are going to be any more shots in the summer transfer window, and I would be shocked if there weren’t 2 or 3 more, it would be best if they came sooner.
Inter played 3 friendlies this summer already and each told us something important.
The Orange Vs Green friendly basically told everyone – especially Pazzini - that Strama wasn’t going to be using Pazzini much this season. It was after this game that Pazzini had a melt down in front of the press and we find ourselves at the point we are at with him now. Pazzini was put on the kids team that was being used as the tackling dummy for the guys that were really going to be playing this season and he didn’t like it one bit. More on this one in the Transfers section…
The Trentino game showed everyone not actually present for the practices exactly what the early returns on Strama’s tactics were. We shouldn’t be surprised at this point that Strama wants to play with 3 attacking players, with two of them supporting the lone striker wide. The waning days of the last season saw this formation a lot. Guarin looks to be the real deal as a midfielder, not because he was beating up on the kids team and Trentino, but because when compared to the other Inter players on the field he looked like he belonged, or even looked better. Coutinho impressed quite a bit in this game too. Again, he impressed not because he was able to beat up on Trentino, but because he was basically running the show for players like Milito and Palacio who are proven vets. This is also the second training game that Mbaye started at fullback and looked good.
Strama was happy to win this game by a significant margin, but he said the right things at the press conference afterwards. He said that the team was a work in progress and that the team had some problems holding it’s shape when advancing and retreating on the field. I really like this comment because it shows that he was using this game to gauge the team against his ideal not the other, lesser competitive team. We all knew who should have won the game, but how the team actually plays while playing is important and I was relieved that the young coach didn’t get caught up in the moment.
The Koper game was the most interesting and the most like the games we are likely to see early this summer at Europa. Mbaye, again, impressed with his adaptability, his ability to recover the ball and movement up and down the field at speed. Coutinho continued to boss the team’s attack, setting up others and taking a few chances himself. Guarin looked and moved like a big kid flying all over the place. Nagatomo saw a lot of time on the forward wing possibly foreshadowing a future use further up the field.
Koper is a team that probably looks a lot like what Inter will find in the early rounds of the Europa, plus they started their training camp some 3 or 4 weeks earlier than Inter. I thought that this was a good test for the team just wrapping up the retreat and hammering down exactly how the 11 on the field should expect to move together. The team was much tighter than the Trentino game, and even though they were very tired from their week long 2-a-days they looked able to go up and down the field as a unit, even after the Senators were subbed off. I was very impressed by the ability of the young guys to turn recovery into attack at a drop of a hat. Every time there was a hint of a tackle, the young guys in the midfield looked like a swarm surging forward hoping to take advantage. Koper had several tactical fouls called against them as they couldn’t deal with the quickness or the suddenness of the counter. Longo looked like he was on the verge of springing that backline trap a couple of times.
The nice thing about this game was that the defense didn’t look like it was abandoned by the midfield too many times, although there were some iffy moments. Ranocchia was caught trying to corral a bad pass in our own half and I swear that Samuel was channeling Lucio with a surge forward from the backline once. Predictably, he overextended and had to huff and puff back into the defense to deal with that episode. Handanovic looks very competent and cool under pressure. After a close call he looked ready to scream at his defense but held back, though. Either he’s trying to be nice or he’s a little overwhelmed, I don’t know, but I would have liked it better if he made his feelings known.
Overall Koper looked overmatched for most of the game. Some might say that a team like Inter should overmatch a team like Koper, and I wouldn’t disagree. But considering the difference in fitness levels and how many players Inter used for the first time in the senior team… it was heartening that the quality didn’t look to suffer. Remember, Mbaye – one of the tallest people out there – is also very young. It’s hard to remember that fact watching this big person play competently in three defensive positions during a game against another professional club. The Slovenian top flight, where Koper makes it’s bread, might not be the toughest of professional leagues in Europe, but I am at this moment happy to see that the young man can hang with professionals. Previous to this, I had no idea.
I think we all knew Coutinho looked like he had some potential when we all first saw him, but he looked miles ahead of where he was before his loan in Spain. I am not talking about the goal he scored, which was very pretty, but just the way he was able to command the attacking area. I wonder if he and Sneijder could play together and what kind of passes we might see between them. It might be worth watching.
I don’t think that I really had a chance to talk about the transfer market in the long form here yet, so give me moment, please, to recap some stuff.
First of all, I like the Palacio capture in principle. I didn’t at first, but the idea has really grown on me – and that wasn’t easy considering that I never warmed up to the player when he was at Genoa. On the other hand, I always acknowledged that he was a very solid professional and he’s done good things at Genoa. I think he’s a little older that I would have preferred, but, considering he’s essentially taking over for Forlan, he’s younger, less wage and might prove to be a better fit. Frankly, when given the opportunity to play, Forlan just didn’t look very good – and I am not just talking stats here, although those aren’t exactly great either.
Handanovic is a very good goalkeeper and has proven that he can play in Serie A and taken by itself, I like the deal they came to agree on. My only problem with Handanovic’s signing is Cesar’s contract. Cesar signed his current contract when he was over 30. He was signed to a 4 year deal – remember that he was over 30 when he signed. How long did the club think that he was going to play for? How long did the club think that Cesar could be effective for? They made sure that he couldn’t leave by giving him a ton of money… but they also locked themselves in. Now they/we have to go through this drama to move him on. It’s kind of like the Stankovic deal where an over 30 player got a massive contract – I’ll get to that one later.
But I am confident that Handanovic can handle the duties of his office well. I will interested to see how he holds up to the pressure of being at a club that has a lot more expectation than Udinese. Handanovic came to Inter with Faraoni going the other way. The Udinese website described the deal as being an exchange… but Faraoni’s agent says that he expects his client to be back at Inter for next season… so I am not exactly sure what the actual deal was now. Either way, I have no qualms about it at this time.
Guarin’s redemption was a no brainer for me. There were pundits who thought that the price was high, but I disagree quite a bit. The team knows the player, he’s proven in Serie A and frankly, he’s now the best midfielder on the team. Guarin is a combination of athleticism and attitude that I really like a lot. And he’s not bad with his feet, either. If he can keep those shots down then he’s going to hurt some goal keeper someday.
Considering that the team decided to let Lucio go and moved Chivu to the background then buying Silvestre was the right decision to make, in my opinion. Silvestre, like Handanovic and Palacio, is a solid Serie A player who has a chance to step up his game. I don’t have many doubts that Silvestre will be decent, I just hope that he can settle in quickly. Looking back at his career, he hasn’t always been able to do that with his new team, but once he has, I don’t think there were too many complaints about his play. I fully expect Strama to use a rotation in the back so I don’t really see any conflict that could arise between the three players that are expecting to play a lot – Samuel, Ranocchia and Silvestre. Frankly, I think Samuel will be odd man out by necessity later rather than sooner. Ranocchia needs to play or he won’t (A.) get better (B.) stay.
I really like that the team went all in to get Longo back from Genoa. I think he’s an interesting prospect and only time will tell if he’s a star or whatnot. But I think the team deserves the chance to find out before anyone else does.
I can’t go too much farther here without saying how disappointed I am the team didn’t go out and get Poli for the very low price that Sampdoria was willing to deal for. Poli isn’t super technical, he’s not a great passer, nor is he a phenomenal tackler. But what he does very, very well is pressure the other team. Strama’s tactics are a lot about pressure and gods know I talked about it enough here on this website. Pressure and reducing time on the ball are essential parts of football in the modern age and Poli has that rare athleticism and mentality that lets him do that. Considering the team’s priorities in chasing other players, it’s obvious that they won’t pay much for what they consider to be solely a dm. Consider that rumor says that the team will go out and get Gabi Mudingayi, a Serie A vet, for about 1/3 the price of Poli plus only a loan of a young player, not the co-ownership that Samp was rumored to be requiring.
Inter seems much more interested in getting a midfielder who is much more a direct replacement for Thiago Motta than Andrea Poli. This is why over the course of this summer we heard names like Paulinho, M’Vila and Sahin. But it might not have escaped anyone’s notice that we haven’t actually brought any of those players into camp. We also have heard about Fernando, who was Guarin’s playmate at Porto, but like the others, it’s doubtful that a team like Porto will let that player go. Of these names I don't really see a player that Inter can afford/pry loose. So if we don’t get Poli… then who do we get? Because, we need someone. Last season showed everyone that we need someone. Obi and Alvarez have been on the injured bench all summer. A limping Deki, Zanetti and Cambiasso won’t cut the mustard anymore, we all saw that didn’t we? Management can’t be that blind, right?
Speaking of Deki, we come to the case of Dejan Stankovic. Deki has had Achilles tendon surgery recently, but I can’t help but notice that the player is (A.) still part of the squad and (B.) still the owner of a very hefty contract. Considering that Lucio was effectively ejected from the team, Cesar is being asked to leave and Samuel and Chivu had to accept ½ wage or leave… but still there is Deki and his 3-4 mil per year. If there was (tenuous to be sure) an argument for not bringing Poli back in, then there is no argument for Deki still being on the team. Considering his waning fitness last season, I can’t even imagine what it’s going to look like when the 34 year old misses a whole summer to prepare (right about now, someone will be outraged that I list Deki as 34 when he’s actually a much, much, much younger 33. Deki’s birthday is Sept 11, so for the purposes of talking about the season coming up, he’s 34).
The Poli Fiasco gets more upsetting to me considering the last 4 years of Deki’s career here at Inter. In the 2009/2010 transfer window, when Mourinho just took over the club, it looked like Deki’s less than thrilling half decade or so career with Inter was over as the Serbian was going to be moved on. He was kept here after a weird set of circumstances prevented his transfer (Mourinho requested that he stay and the Juve supporters went apoplectic [what a great word] with outrage) and Deki followed up with his best year with the club. After which – he was over 30, mind you – he was granted a hefty and lengthy contract. Not only has Deki been retained, he has been rewarded past any reasonable amount a contact that he’ll never play up to. He is still here, long past when he should have been thanked for his service, and a player like Poli – who may or may not be any good, but was better at his job than Dejan was at his last season – is someone else’s future. This is not what I consider to be good management.
Lastly today I would like to touch on the Pazzini deal. I don’t blame the player who is upset, but I do blame him for airing his dirty laundry for the media to watch. There is a way for a professional to show that he isn't happy with being unable to beat out a just turned 33 year old striker for the job he wants. It’s called a transfer request. It’s not pitching a fit in front of cameras.
If Pazzini goes, that’s his business. He wasn’t good last season, and the more I think about it, the more I think it’s because he didn’t have anyone else to draw fire. Pazzini used to play for Fiorentina where he had the same problems that he had here last season for probably the same reasons - no one else to work with. When he moved to Samp, he played up front with Cassano to very good partnership. When he moved here he played up front with Eto’o to great effect. When defenses weren’t sufficiently scared of Milito, Forlan or Zarate or he played on up top on his own… he struggled. Now we are definitely playing with one striker and Pazzini isn’t exactly a great fit. Unlike Milito, he can’t make a nifty move to create a sliver of space to shoot from. He needs that last killer pass and he needs to be in the box when he gets it. The farther from the box Pazzini gets the ball the less effective he is.
He’s going to hold out until a team like Milan or Juventus come to get him. He’s not going to play outside of Italy. And he’s not going to move to a team that can’t pay him. So we are in it for the long haul with Pazzini, although if I were Branca, I would play just as much hard ball with those other teams as they play with us. I pray Branca doesn’t give a discount or just decides to give in to move on. Pazzini’s contract isn’t up for a while and there is no rush - we have eaten smaller contracts than this one for a year, that's for sure. If someone wants the player, they should have to pay for it. If Pazzini wants to go, he should have to go on the team’s terms. I hope Branca is strong enough to do this.
Meanwhile, I guess we can only wait for more news… I can guarantee that there will be at least one more surprise this summer…