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Branca's Greatest Hits and Misses: Part II

Rounding out yesterday's piece on the former Inter Sporting Director's worst misses is Branca's greatest hits.

Marco Branca
Marco Branca
Claudio Villa

Please welcome back, Drewseph from our SB Nation Inter Community.  While yesterday's piece focused on Branca's Greatest Misses, today we take a look at what the former Inter Sporting Director got right.

Branca's Greatest Hits and Greatest Misses Part II

The Hits

5. Juan Jesus Saves

Juan Jesus is probably the third best defender on the current Inter side. He came to Inter from Brazil for a €3.8 million fee, sat on the bench for half a season, and slowly worked his way up the pecking order.

What's so novel about that, you ask? Well, nothing, except it demonstrates the club acting with clear goals and sticking with a young player to develop him into a starter, something we rarely do. So often it feels like the world's top clubs are all chasing the same handful of players, so here was a kid that no one was overhyping, and we snagged him long before the vultures and Udinese started circling. We didn't push him into playing too early, or loan him out to "gain experience" by sitting on some other club's bench. Now he's one of the first names on the team sheet. According to Transfermarkt, his projected market value has more than tripled since he came here, to €12 million, and he's still only 22 years old. A refreshing demonstration of astute scouting and patient development of a promising young prospect.

4. Molto (Per) Mario

Mario Balotelli is easily the most talented player to come out of Inter's youth system since Walter Zenga. He's also ridiculously undisciplined, poison to a locker room, and just as liable to get a random red card or start square-dancing in midfield as he is to take a goalkeeper's head off with his ludicrously powerful shot. In other words, he was fun while he lasted, but things between us clearly weren't meant to be.

All of Balo's talent, and all of his demons, were out in the open when we decided to sell him in summer of 2010. We got around €28 million for him from Manchester City, including all the add-ons. Huge as that transfer was, some wondered if we wouldn't soon regret it; this was a player who seemed to be on his way to big things. And he was - he won the FA Cup and the Premier League title with Man City, and eventually came up huge for Italy in Euro 2012. Then Man City sold him to Milan for around €22 million. Think about that for a second. When we sold Mario, he was a potential world-class player. When Man City sold him two and a half years later, he was a proven world-class player. And yet his market value had dropped in the interim.

I imagine Balotelli will continue to cycle between the biggest clubs in football's biggest leagues for another decade or so, but I'm not sure he'll ever fetch a bigger fee than he did for us. Like Nicolas Anelka and Antonio Cassano before him, his obvious brilliance will probably never fully compensate for his foul temperament, and we got out while the getting was good. On a similar note...

3. La Pazza Cassanata

Having Antonio Cassano on your team is sort of like dating a funny, crazy party girl who drinks too much. At first, everything seems so exciting and spontaneous, but after a while, she'll show up an hour late to meet your parents, start getting mad at you for no apparent reason, and one day you'll come home to find all the lights off because she forgot to pay the electric bill again.

But all the same, this was a nice piece of business. After Pazzini's disappointing 2011/2012 season, in which he only scored 8 goals in 40 total appearances, Stramaccioni decided he wanted a more creative forward. Enter Cassano from Milan, who came in exchange for Pazzini with an extra €7 million thrown on top. Cassano notched 9 goals and 12 assists for us over the next season, and provided a valuable creative outlet even when he wasn't hitting the stat sheet.

Granted, Pazzini did far better at Milan than he did here, doubling his previous year's goal tally in fewer matches, while the ever-problematic Cassano was hurriedly shipped off this past summer. But it was still a financially savvy deal that was done with the manager's actual tactics and wishes in mind, something that can't be said of a transfer debacle that would start to unfold mere months later.

2. The Unkindest Cuts

It may seem odd to praise Branca for making painful cuts to this club's squad, but I have some sympathy for the devil here; it's hard to imagine this is what he had in mind when he took on the gig. Most directors are given a budget, and told to assemble the best squad they can. Branca, on the other hand, was not only given a drastically reduced transfer budget, he was also asked to more or less conduct the football equivalent of corporate downsizing.

In other words, Moratti put him in a position where even if he wins, he fails. Cutting player salaries (and cutting high-salaried players) makes him a pariah with the players and coaches. Shipping off superstars and creating cheaper, lesser squads makes him a pariah with fans. But if he fails to do this, the club will be in serious financial trouble, and he'll be the one responsible.

So he did what he was instructed to do, cutting this club's overall wage bill to under €100 million for the first time in years, to €92 million at the start of this season. In 2009, we were at €150 million. That's a truly dramatic transformation.

Looking into the near future, our two highest-earning players are out of contract this summer, and our highest-earning player (Milito) looks pretty certain to leave for good. If we were to simply let all of our expiring contracts run out, we'd stand to save €17 million by season's end. (And except for Cambiasso, I'm not so sure we're going to renew any of them.)

Of course, all of this comes with a price: Branca is hardly Brian Clough, capable of assembling a competitive squad from spare parts and our results have suffered as our wage bill has gone down. We're also still not getting a real return on expenditures, as we have the third highest wage bill in the league, without being anywhere near third place on the table. And you could definitely argue with the methods Branca employed to make these cuts, which I will do further down the page.

But dammit, he had to do something. He was given a hugely unpopular and unpleasant, yet totally unavoidable task, and he executed it ruthlessly.

1. The Gre'at Tra'in R'obbery

€45 million and Samuel Eto'o, in exchange for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The more time passes since this trade, the harder it becomes to believe it actually happened. Four years on, it feels like the kind of deal you strike while playing Monopoly with your eight-year-old cousin who doesn't actually understand the rules. In a few decades, it will likely enter the realm of sporting myth, like Babe Ruth pointing to the stands before a homerun, or Giuseppe Meazza scoring a hat trick the day after curing polio and secretly fathering the entire Grande Inter squad. (The man had stamina.) Yet at the time, it was anything but a total slam-dunk.

I remember going to see Inter play Chelsea in a friendly at the Rose Bowl in summer of 2009, shortly after the rumors of the deal started percolating. (As it turned out, it would be the last time Ibra ever wore an Inter kit.) In the parking lot afterward, some rather drunken Chelsea fans noticed my Inter jersey, and started mocking me for the impending transfer. "You guys are so screwed without Ibra," one said, laughing. "Good luck with Eto'o."

Those guys probably weren't laughing so hard when Eto'o scored a long range snapshot at Stamford Bridge to knock Chelsea out of Europe a half year later. But theirs was not an unusual opinion. That summer, Samuel Eto'o was belittled as being a mere penalty box poacher who cleaned up Messi's leftovers, and his squabbles with Guardiola had him labeled "difficult," and "a diva." Ibrahimovic, on the other hand, was seen as having all-but-carried Inter to our last two Scudetti, and many wondered if anyone could possibly beat Barca with him on the team.

As it turned out, Ibra's wild conflicts with Guardiola would become the stuff of legend*, and his time at Barca was so disappointing that, as he wrote in his memoir, he considered giving up football all together. Meanwhile, Eto'o proved himself to be as selfless and classy at Inter as he was versatile and prolific, willingly playing as support striker, left winger, attacking midfielder and even fullback while still managing to score 53 goals over two years here**. Some Barca fans openly wondered if the deal had been the worst bit of business in their club's history. As for Inter, it was one of our best.

*Also the subject of Zlatan! my epic jukebox musical about the life and times of Ibrahimovic. Advance ticket sales will begin as soon as I scout out a venue, nail down financiers, hire a director, finalize the cast, finish writing it, and start writing it. Stay tuned!

**I'm a married straight dude, but if for some reason I find myself doing an Advocate interview - perhaps in conjunction with my Tony Award-winning Broadway smash, Zlatan! - and they ask me to name the five sexiest men of all time, I'd go with: Paul Newman in the Hud/Cool Hand Luke era; D'Angelo in the "Untitled" music video; Kublai Khan; Bugs Bunny when he put on a dress and pretended to be a girl bunny; and Samuel Eto'o in 2011.

[Editor's note:  Also included in an Honorable Mention would be the acquisition of Diego Milito and Thiago Motta both of which helped to contribute to the 2010 Treble winning Inter squad].