Assigning season grades to Inter players at this point is probably unfair, considering the 2014-15 campaign has yet to limp to its official denouement. A lot can happen in two matches, after all. We might still make the Europa League, in spite of all our best efforts to avoid it. Players might take a sharp shift in form. Icardi might somehow knock in 19 own-goals over the next two weeks, reducing his cumulative scoring record to zero. Ranocchia could score the winner against Genoa by nutmegging the entire backline one-by-one, waiting for them to catch up ala Garrincha, then nutmegging them all again before crossing the ball to himself and bicycle-kicking it into the net. Kuzmanovic, studying for his bar exam while sitting on the bench, might discover an obscure loophole in Paul Pogba’s contract that requires Juve to sell him for $5 to anyone who asks during a full moon. Anything’s possible. But let’s be honest, the season has been over for a while, and this team is who we thought they were.
So who are they? My grades are below, but first a few caveats:
1. These grades are highly unscientific. I tend to employ statistics when they prove my point, and I heedlessly ignore statistics when they don’t, because that’s just how I roll. Anyone who thinks I’m insane is more than welcome to that opinion.
2. These grades are all relative, taking into account the player’s development level, the degree to which they rose above or fell below their talents, etc. In other words, you’ll notice I’ve given Gnoukouri a higher grade than Kovacic and Guarin – this isn’t because I think he’s objectively a better player, but because I think he made a better case for himself as a teenage debutante in a few matches than they did as established players in multiple matches.
3. I did not watch every single Inter match this season. In fact, I intentionally avoided a few of them. Did you watch every match? Why? We were pretty awful.
Mauro Icardi (A-)
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If you take an objective look at what Mauro Icardi has achieved in his first full, uninjured season at Inter and still think we should sell him, then I don’t know what it is you’re actually expecting from a 22-year-old center forward. He can be a frustrating figure, he needs to work on his decision-making and work-rate, and if you wanted to, you could probably compile a lowlight-reel of his fresh-air shots that make him look like the second coming of Robinho. But if you simply look at his results on the whole, you’ll see he’s a phenomenally talented goal-poacher who can score in just about every way imaginable – muscular headers, opportunistic tap-ins, tight-angle magic-goals, long-distance screamers, freak deflections, ballsy chipped penalties... If you still want to argue that we should sell him, that’s fine. But before you do, please see if you can think of a striker with similar abilities, at a similar age, who we have any reasonable chance of actually bringing into the team in his place. If you can, I’d love to hear it.
Samir Handanovic (A-)
The general consensus seems to be that Samir Handanovic has had an off year compared to previous seasons, with more careless mistakes and misjudgments than before. If that’s true, then it’s a pretty amazing testament to how good he is, since he’s still been one of the top two or three keepers in the country. He’s bailed our leaky defense out more times than he ever should’ve had to, and his penalty stopping record continues to be ludicrous. If we have to sell him, then we have to sell him – in the long run, it’s probably better to have a competent defense and a competent keeper than a horrorshow defense and a superstar keeper – but we’re gonna miss him pretty badly all the same.
Gary Medel (B+)
Gary Medel is not an attractive player to watch. He’s a brawler, he rarely seems to move the attack forward, and you can point to a number of occasions where his positioning has left our defense exposed. But his role is one that never looks attractive, and it’s one of those rare cases where you’re better off looking at the stats than going off your gut. So the stats are this – even though he’s played more total minutes than any other outfield player, Medel also has the highest pass success rate on the team, an impressive 91.9%. He averages more successful tackles and clearances per match than any non-defender on the team (his tackling stats are actually better than both Ranocchia and Vidic), and he comes in second overall for interceptions. And he has done all this dirty work while only picking up a single red card. It’s not a pretty job he does, but he does it pretty beautifully, all things considered.
Davide Santon (B)
The prodigal son arrived home to a very different Inter than the one he left. For one, where before a single mistake might see him banished to the bench for months, here his simple competence and ability to provide a few decent crosses per match made him the best fullback on the roster. (Not that it necessarily kept him off the bench, but explaining some of our lineups this season has been a fool’s errand.) Hopefully he can be a key element of our defensive rebuild.
Assane Gnoukouri (B-)
Who the hell is this guy? No, really, who is he? I like to think I’m moderately well-informed about the potential stars in our primavera, but I had never heard his name until his 10-minute cameo against Verona. Then, a week later, he was starting in the Milan derby. Then, the next week, he was starting against Roma. And he looked like one of our most composed players in both matches. I realize it might be ridiculous of me to give such a high grade to a player who’s only played two hours of Serie A football in his life – after all, five years ago I was sure Joel Obi and Lorenzo Crisetig would both be starters by now. But still, seeing this 18-year-old come from out of nowhere and unfussily start bettering the more veteran players on the squad was something to behold. (And then of course, after thoroughly impressing everyone, he’s disappeared back into the furthest reaches of the bench. Because Mancini.)
Marcelo Brozovic (B-)
Moving from the Croatian league into Serie A midseason as a tactical player is always going to take some adjustment time, and Brozovic is still very much a work in progress. But early signs look good: he’s a solid holding midfielder with good instincts and a decent head on his shoulders. Next season we’ll see if he has what it takes for the long haul.
Like another one of our players who put in a long World Cup shift this summer (see Palacio, below), Hernanes looked like a shadow of his former self for the first half of the season, then gradually got back into form at precisely the time when we had little left to play for. He’s an excellent player, and I’m never sorry to see him on the team-sheet, but I’m not counting on him being a reliable starter for too much longer.
Rodrigo Palacio (C+)
See Hernanes, above. On the one hand, I really am proud of this club for allowing Palacio to keep playing through his miserable period at the beginning of the season – the team let him get his confidence back, and he started to look like his old self by the end of the campaign. On the other hand, I just wish we would give those sorts of opportunities to slumping younger players who could really use that kind of confidence-boost. Speaking of which…
Mateo Kovacic (C+)
For the second season in a row, Mateo Kovacic has failed to fully live up to his billing, and for the second season in a row, it’s easy to point to a number of external reasons behind that failure. Much like with Pirlo back in the old days, Inter simply can’t seem to find the right way to exploit this kid’s obvious yet particular set of skills, and it feels like every time he gives a passing clinic or scores a wondergoal one week, he’ll be stuck in a completely different role by the next, and then be labeled "inconsistent." It’s frustrating to watch Kovacic be treated this way, and I’m sure it’s far more frustrating to actually be Kovacic. Along with Icardi, Kovacic is the most promising young player we’ve had on this side in a decade, and part of me hopes that all this early turmoil will actually make him a stronger footballer in the end. But I’m getting less and less convinced that he’ll ever reach his potential playing for this club.
Nemanja Vidic (C)
Judging purely by his most recent Inter matches, Vidic’s grade should be a lot higher; judging purely by his earliest Inter matches, it should be far lower. So a C feels like an appropriate average. Vidic looked lost and hopeless playing in Mazzarri’s three-man backline, but under Mancini we’ve started to see glimpses of the aerial prowess and warrior instincts that made him such a legend at Man U. But even with his spring resurgence, he’s still going to be 34 next fall, and he’s still capable of blunders like we saw in the last Juve match. He’s certainly not the problem with our defense, but nor is he the long term solution.
Fredy Guarin (C)
Guarin continues to be the archetypal riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. He’s highly skilled, highly physical, and he puts up the sort of stats that could make him look like a monster to potential buyers (7 goals and 8 assists in all competitions). But those of us who watch him every week know better. His performances can range from game-changing brilliance to absolutely brain-dead garbage, often within the same half. Sometimes within the same minute. At times he’ll take control of the match like a natural leader, and at others he’ll mentally check out midway through and start fights with supporters. He’s our second-highest scorer, but every goal he scores is still met with disbelief from the faithful. ("Guarin did something right? WTF?") I don’t think we’ll ever truly figure out Guarin, and I’m getting tired of trying to.
Danilo D’Ambrosio (C)
D’Ambrosio is a hard player to analyze, simply because there’s so little to talk about. It’s like writing an in-depth culinary critique of a Starbucks croissant – what is there to really say? He’s a purely functional fullback. He defends okay and gets forward decently, with no major strengths or major weaknesses. He would be a utility player on a better team, and hopefully that’s the role he’ll play for us going forward.
Xherdan Shaqiri (C-)
To say that Shaqiri hasn’t had the desired impact since arriving would be quite an understatement: The flashiest new signing Inter had made in a while, he has yet to show his quality. Then again, transitioning from the Bundesliga to Serie A is never easy, and going from a team like Bayern – where league matches are virtual training exercises – to a schizophrenic team like Inter is an even more dizzying adjustment. I will thus defer any overall judgment for now, but next season will be put-up-or-shut-up time for the Swiss dwarf.
Zdravko Kuzmanovic (C-)
One’s opinion on Kuzmanovic tends to depend on what kind of context you choose to view him in. If you look at him compared to the midfielders who’ve come immediately before – Stankovic, Cambiasso, even Muntari back when he was still half-sane – then he looks like an embarrassing flop. But if you look at him as a hard-working depth player on a mediocre side who knows his place, knows his job and does what he can, it’s hard to really resent him.
Marco Andreolli (C-)
Like last season, Andreolli had a hard time getting much playing time, even though every time he played he looked like a completely adequate player. I have absolutely no idea why this keeps happening to him, and I would assume there’s a reason why he stays on the bench even in the face of less-than-fierce competition. But assuming rationality is always a dangerous gamble with this club.
Lukas Podolski (C-)
In his half-season at Inter, Podolski provided two of the best assists of the year – a backheel to Shaqiri, and an excellent through ball to Icardi for the winner against Roma – and scored one of the best goals of the year. Other than that, he has had no impact on this club whatsoever. In 10 years, his time at Inter will be little more than an answer to a particularly tough football trivia question. He’s our German Robbie Keane.
Juan Jesus (C-)
Juan would have been my pick for Inter’s best all-around defender at the start of the season, but as the campaign went on he just got worse and worse, until he became a constant liability in defense. His fortunes improved thanks to a move to left-back, where he was solid if unspectacular. Will need to really hunker down in training this summer, and hopefully find a better defensive partner, if he’s going to arrest the slide.
Andrea Ranocchia (D+)
I sympathize with Andrea Ranocchia. I’ve always sympathized with Ranocchia, and I’ve always wanted him to do well. But something seems fundamentally broken with his game. It could have been that his old knee injury threw off his development more than we realized, it could have been the utter chaos he experienced in his first seasons with Inter, and it could be that he simply was never quite as good as advertised. Probably a combination of all three. But whatever the case, he simply has come nowhere close to living up to the burden of captaincy, nor has he even begun to play with the kind of instincts and intelligence you’d expect a 27-year-old Italian defender to have. I don’t feel good trashing the guy, as I think he’s sincere and loves Inter and is doing the best he can every match. But under his leadership the club as a whole has started to resemble its captain all too closely: nervous, accident-prone, and incapable of living up to its potential.
Juan Pablo Carrizo (D+)
Mancini’s decision to start Carrizo in our Europa League match against Wolfsburg may well have been his most obvious tactical blunder of the year, as Carrizo’s cringeworthy errors robbed us of our only hope of silverware. Perhaps that shouldn’t overshadow the professional yet unremarkable gruntwork he put in when called upon, but it’s hard to look past it.
Hugo Campagnaro (D)
Campagnaro provided us some cover in a weak position as he wound down his career this season. That’s probably all we could have expected from him at this point, and that’s all he gave.
Joel Obi (D)
The prototypical forgotten man, our once bright academy prospect apparently can only get playing time in Milan derbies, which presents a pretty limited career path. Great lucky goal in the first derby, but his time here seems to have reached the end of the road.
Yuto Nagatomo (D)
An increasingly marginal presence at this club, Nagatomo’s Inter minutes were limited by international duty and injuries, but I’m not sure he was ever really missed. Looked brightest when playing as a wingback above a three-man backline (where his speed gave us an attacking outlet and he wasn’t tested much defensively), but I don’t see much of a place for him in Mancini’s plans.
Put in a handful of decent shifts for Inter early this year, though most of them did come in pre-season matches. I like his attitude, and he still has time to develop, but his tactical naiveté and injury-proneness don't instill much confidence.
Pablo Dani Osvaldo (D-)
Remember when Osvaldo was an Inter player? LOL, crazy times. Not that it was a total wash: He knocked in a few good goals for us, and was shuttled off before he could do any lasting damage. Plus, he made popped-collar Icardi look like a paragon of class and sophistication by comparison.
Yann M’Vila (F)
Pretty straightforward situation with this guy, really: We offered him a chance to turn his tail-spinning career around, while leaving ourselves with an easy way out if he didn’t take the opportunity. He hardly even made an effort, and we shipped him back the first chance we got. Au revoir.
I’ve been told he’s an Inter player, and a look at the player roster on the club’s website confirms that this is true. But that’s the limit of my insight into Felipe.
George Puscas/Federico Bonazzoli (Incomplete)
Getting excited about a promoted Inter primavera striker is like falling in love with a brand new "Game of Thrones" character: In order to do so, you have to ignore the dozens of times you’ve been burned in the past.
Jonathan hardly played this year, so he gets no official grade. And with his contract up this summer and absolutely no reports of an extension, we’ve surely seen the last of him in nerazzurri. But I want to say one thing in closing: I will always have sincere respect and affection for Jonathan Cicero Moreira, and he gets an A+ for effort. When he was first signed back in 2011, it was pretty immediately apparent that he was in way over his head, and probably had no business on a team that had won a treble just a year before. But what was he supposed to do at that point? Curl up and die? Go AWOL? Show up in Branca’s office and say, "excuse me, I think you’ve made a huge mistake, why don’t we tear up that contract I just signed"? Hell no. In a way, Jonathan’s response to his baffling signing for Inter is an excellent example of great sportsmanship. Despite becoming an instant joke, a walking symbol of Inter’s poor post-treble decision-making, the man never let it get him down, and he worked his ass off to become the least mediocre player he could possibly be. For a brief period at the beginning of Mazzarri’s reign, he actually achieved the miraculous and looked like he belonged on this team, putting in some surprisingly great performances and scoring a few quality goals. I’d like to think I’d respond the same way if Obama randomly picked me to be the new Secretary of Transportation, or if Coachella booked me in the DJ tent: "I have no idea why I’m here, I probably shouldn’t be, but I’ll try to do the very best I can." I’m not sure I would, though. I’d probably just call in sick and go into hiding. But Jonathan didn’t.
So for that, I belong to Jonathan. Now and forever.