So at last it's official. As of Friday afternoon, Luciano Spalletti is the new Inter head coach, having signed a two-year contract with the club after a series of meetings with its most influential figures. His first press conference will not take place until Wednesday afternoon (1200 local time), but the ex-Roma boss has already started thinking about the challenges ahead and outlined some of his main objectives in an impromptu interview outside Appiano Gentile on Friday. Spalletti is under no illusions whatsoever that restoring Inter to former glories will be a simple task, and I'm sure the same can be said of all Inter supporters; we've seen too many competent coaches implode under the asphyxiating pressure this club creates to think otherwise.
With that in mind, I've picked out five things that Spalletti must do during his time at Inter if he is to achieve any degree of success (as far as next season is concerned, I would define 'success' as qualification for the Champions League). Unfortunately the list of things that are wrong with this club and its playing staff is endless, so these don't cover everything - just the issues I feel are most pressing off the back of the 2016-17 campaign. We'd be here all summer otherwise...
Reinstate a culture of professionalism
The first thing Spalletti will need to do is to address the startling lack of professionalism that seems to exist within our dressing room. It would be an insult to most footballers' integrity to remind them that they are expected to train hard every day, respect their coach and give their all from the first game of the season to the last; but it's not an insult to our players' integrity. Over the last seven years our squad has lived up to pretty much every negative stereotype the general public has about modern-day footballers, devouring coach after coach after coach in the process, and it's time they stopped being able to get away with such slack behaviour. If you've got an everyday full-back like Danilo D'Ambrosio coming out in public and saying "yeah it's true, we have kinda given up in the last month or so", in the most brazen tone imaginable, then you have no chance of achieving anything.
If Spalletti wants to succeed at Inter, therefore, he'll need to get very tough with anybody he thinks is giving less than 100%, be that in training or in matches. In that regard, some of the things Stefano Vecchi has said about the first team this season are frankly frightening - ‘the players were a bit sloppy in training yesterday', 'this team lacks a culture of work', 'there are some of these players who shouldn't play for Inter again'... I can't quite believe that an Inter coach should have to treat his players like a group of obstreperous children, but sadly that's where we are right now. Work them harder than you've ever worked a squad before, remove all possible alibis from their grasp and demand discipline and full commitment from the start of July to the end of May - not just from December to March, after the guy they hated has been fired and before they discover that his replacement won't be there next season.
Man we're in a mess. Save us Luciano. Shout at that band of oafish morons, make their lives hell. Kick their effing backsides from dawn 'till dusk. Punch them until they can't see out of their eyes from the swelling. I'll help out if you want.
Reunite the dressing room
Three incidents from the end of last season lead me to identify this as a key task awaiting Spalletti. Firstly, Piero Ausilio's infamous rant at a University in Milan that was discreetly recorded and released into the public domain, in which he spoke about how there was no sense of solidarity between the players because 'there are a lot of people who just think of themselves; everybody just does their little bit and no more, there's not a lot of personality and moral fortitude.' (YOU BOUGHT MOST OF THESE PLAYERS DID YOU NOT??????) Secondly, Roberto Gagliardini's controversial confession during a telephone conversation with Gian Piero Gasperini's assistant coach at Atalanta; that the Inter dressing room is a 'powder keg' full of 'factions', each trying to prevail over one another without any authority being exerted by the club. (He steadfastly denies having said anything of the sort, we should remember - but the story did emerge). And thirdly, the interview Eder gave to Sky Sport after Inter's defeat at home to Sassuolo last month, where he invited his teammates to state on the record whether they really wanted to remain at the club next season - 'and not through other people, directly'.
Essentially, there is something rotten within this dressing room and it's up to Spalletti to fix that. It's the precise reason why I think Antonio Conte would have been the PERFECT man to coach Inter next season and return us to former glories, because there is no better manager in the world at motivating players and getting them all to rally around a unified cause, but Spalletti seems to be good at it as well. With all the off-field distractions that could have derailed Roma last season he still got them to second place with 87 points, and you never got the sense that the players were a divided bunch. The players need to care for one another, they need to want to help their teammate out when he's struggling; they need to care about Inter before they care about themselves. It's not that they hate each other; they just don't love each other enough. Empathy is the name of the game.
Give the team a clear identity
Spalletti also needs to try and give this team a godforsaken identity, because I cannot remember the last time it really had one. The consequence of changing coaches (and owners) every other week is that our squad is horrendously imbalanced - some of our players were wanted by Mazzarri, some were brought in by Mancini, some came in under De Boer and some were individual intuitions of Zanetti, Ausilio or dare I say Kia Joorabchian. Certain areas of the squad are woefully thin, whilst others are subject to severe overcrowding (Banega, Joao Mario AND Brozovic? Really?); it's an unintelligible mishmash of people that have come together by chance, and you can see that clearly when they step out onto the pitch. Spalletti said on Friday that 'to obtain results it's fundamental that the team behaves like a team', that everyone is following the same plan, so let's hope he can get them to do that.
Broadly speaking I think there are two ways he can personally help to create identity. Firstly he'll need to offer a useful contribution during the mercato, identifying which of his current players don't fit into his plans for the team, sidelining them and then finding replacements that he knows will be better suited. As much as I have doubts over spending upwards of €30m on Roma's Antonio Rudiger, the club must try to satisfy Spalletti on any player requests he makes because I do believe he knows what he's doing (mostly). Clear out the deadweight and plan things properly, in synergy with those above you - don't wake up one morning and tell the club to sign effing Eder because your strikers missed a lot of chances the week before. And then secondly, there's the actual footballing aspect; changing formation from game to game is fine, perhaps even recommended, but don't deviate from the technical and tactical principles that underpin them.
Once Spalletti has got the players working hard and working together, he'll also need them to work well. Is that too much to ask?
Avoid unnecessary controversies in public
This is the greatest concern I have about Spalletti heading into next season. There aren't many coaches around Europe that can match him for tactical prowess, but when it comes to communication and management of the media he remains a step behind the likes of Antonio Conte and Diego Simeone. During his second spell at Roma he has combined indisputably positive results with a highly questionable and unnecessarily provocative public presence, with interviews and press conferences that have either failed to diffuse tricky situations or wantonly exacerbated them. It's as if he takes pleasure from rubbing people up the wrong way and enjoys creating arguments.
Take the Francesco Totti situation, for instance, which our friends from Chiesa di Totti touched upon in our Q&A with them at the weekend. When he came on as a substitute against Atalanta and scored a crucial goal in Roma's charge to the Champions League at the back end of last season (not the one just finished), Spalletti was asked by a reporter about how important it was to have someone like Totti in his team. Most coaches would have said something banal about how he's a legend in world football and never ceases to amaze you, but instead he chose the confrontational line and belittled what he'd done - 'the team saved the match, not just Totti: he just stood there and kicked the ball into the net', or something to that effect. He was irritated at how Totti was getting all the credit for their upturn in form, while nobody was bothering to praise him for reinvigorating a broken team after their collapse under Rudi Garcia, and couldn't resist getting his elbows out. I'm pretty sure he had a point there, but coaches as good as him - because he really is good - should be able to rise above that kind of stuff and avoid creating unnecessary tension.
There are other examples too. In the press conference leading up to Totti's last ever match for Roma, Spalletti went off on a tangent about how he had missed loads of penalties during his first spell in charge and potentially cost them the Scudetto on one occasion; his point was that a real leader would eventually have understood that he needed to leave the penalty taking to someone else, whereas Totti was selfish and kept taking them regardless. Do you really need to go down that road in that particular moment? You can't gain anything from it, which suggests that he was annoyed and just couldn't resist it - and that demonstrates a weakness of personality and character which the really top coaches don't have. At one point he actually said "if I could go back in time I would never agree to coach Roma for a second time", after he was criticised for not playing Totti in his last ever trip to San Siro as a player - and then he would blame the media for making up stories about tension between him and Totti that didn’t exist... I digress.
What I'm saying is that Spalletti needs to take the high road when it comes to the media, and avoid being sucked into unnecessary arguments. He has essentially spent the last six months blaming the local media in Rome for any problems the team has had, suggesting they're the reason they don't win more as a club - if he follows a similar communicative strategy at Inter then he will struggle to succeed at this club. It will undermine him in the eyes of the fans, the press and perhaps his superiors within the club too, creating extra tension and threatening to destabilise a team we know to be somewhat mentally fragile.
Be the bigger man, Luciano. You'll have enough problems to solve without creating your own.
Treat Inter like Inter should be treated
(This is more a synthesis of the previous points than a new point in itself, but whatever.)
To succeed at Inter, Luciano Spalletti will need to treat this club like the European and global institution it still (just about) is. Over the last few years we have seen so many players and club officials who have looked down their noses at Inter, claiming to have its best interests at heart while their actions told a different story - Roberto Mancini is the person I have in mind - and we can't stand for it anymore. Spalletti has begun positively in this respect, stating during his interview on Friday that Inter is 'the maximum anyone can aspire to' and vowing to immerse himself in our world, but others have said similar things in the past and then disappointed; actions speak louder than words.
As clichéd a concept as this is, he is right to say that a sense of belonging and attachment to the shirt will be vital if we are to start winning again. It was one of the key reasons we under-performed so hideously this season, as it meant nobody was prepared to go the extra mile when things got tough. Vecchi kept saying something similar when he took over. Spalletti therefore needs to come good on his initial appraisal of the club: care about Inter and Inter will care about you. By that I essentially mean that he needs to be dedicated, loyal and honest - for instance, don't lie to us if we've played badly and lost. Tell us we've played badly.
We may be experiencing one of the worst periods in our history but Inter is and will always remain a special club, and it's about time its employees started to appreciate that. Frank de Boer understood this and tried his hardest to explain it to the players, but nobody listened and he was thrown under the bus. We aren't a stepping stone or an opportunity for you to adjust your bank balance - we're 18-times champions of Italy and the only top-flight club never to have played in Serie B. You don't need to a lifelong Interista to succeed here, but you do need to be professional, humble, ambitious and most of all respectful of what Inter is. Too many people haven't been of late; let's hope Spalletti and his squad are next season.
Good luck Luciano. You'll need it.