After a very long wait indeed, on Wednesday afternoon Luciano Spalletti was finally presented to the Italian media as Inter’s new head coach. The former Roma boss signed a two-year contract with the Nerazzurri last week and was officially announced as Stefano Pioli’s permanent successor on Thursday; and after stopping to speak to reporters outside Inter’s training ground the following day, Spalletti has now held his first official press conference in his new job.
My goodness was it long. It was 75 minutes long, in fact – but if you add on the live Q&A session that took place before the presser on Facebook, Spalletti was talking almost nonstop for over 100 minutes. That man really does love to talk... we’ll need to get used to that. Anyway, below is a summary of the most important things that Spalletti said in response to the questions posed to him, as we’d be here all night for a word-for-word transcription. (If you do speak Italian you can re-watch the whole thing here, while the Facebook Q&A can be found here).
The first question Spalletti was posed when he sat down in front of journalists was why he had chosen to come to Inter: “When I imagined coaching Inter in my head [when he was offered the job], I imagined it being an experience full of beautiful things. Now I want to experience all of these beautiful things, to live them to the fullest – both as someone on the inside and as a privileged spectator. I want to immerse myself in everything that Inter is about from the beginning until the end.”
While some people can’t understand why he would want to come to a club as crazy as ours, Spalletti didn’t need asking twice: “People keep telling me that it’s going to be a real pain coaching Inter – when I was on the plane [back from China] last week a woman asked me if I was the Inter coach, and when I said yes she said ‘oh dear, good luck with that!’ But I don’t see it this way; if coaching Inter is going to be a pain, then it will be the greatest pain I could possibly have wished for. My objective is to bring Inter back into contact with their history*. Inter are a team that should make their supporters’ hearts race every time they step out onto the pitch.” He says he is not bothered about not being Inter’s first choice for the job, either – “I reckon I was even further down their list than most of you think, but I honestly could not care any less. What matters is that I’m now the Inter coach and proud of it. It’s a very exciting challenge and I’ll treat it as such.”
(*This is a phrase he repeated several times during the press conference – evidently he wanted people to take away this message in particular. Inter themselves have translated it less literally as “we need to bring Inter back to where their history tells us they should be.”)
When asked what has gone so wrong at Inter in recent years, Spalletti didn’t have a clear answer, but at one point he did describe Inter’s recent record in Serie A as ‘scandalous’. More than the positions we’ve finished in though, he emphasized that the real problem was the difference in points between us and the likes of Juventus, Roma and Napoli – “if there’s a 25-point difference between two teams over the course of the season, that means you have to win 8-9 games more than them [to catch up]. When you put it like that it sounds almost impossible – it tells you that something radical does need to change here.” If he didn’t know how to diagnose Inter’s problems since 2010, though, Spalletti certainly had a lot to say when he was asked about what Inter need to do to return to the top of Italian football. Firstly, he made it clear that things will now be done his way: “We’re going to start doing things [in training] the way that I like. I believe in my way of working and I’ll ask my players to believe in it as well. I’ll be with them 100% whatever happens, I’ll be by their side every day.”
Broadly speaking, Spalletti outlined three concepts that his players would have to put into practice, in order to put Inter back where they belong. The first of these is ‘appartenenza’, a word he stressed and repeated countless times across the press conference – it doesn’t translate exceptionally well, but essentially it means a sense of belonging and attachment. His point was that everybody at Inter needs to care deeply about Inter for the club to succeed, in a way that goes beyond your professional duties or financial fortunes.
“I want everyone to see this the way that I see it – without ‘appartenenza’, you cannot obtain results in football. As the new coach I want to absorb everything that Inter is about, but the players also have to realize that Inter is a hugely important institution. You can find an Interista in every corner of the world, and with them you need to be honest and respectful. We have to respect their passion for the club by demonstrating qualities that go beyond technical and tactical concepts. Feeling emotionally involved is more important than tactical concepts.”
On that note, at the very end of the conference Spalletti quoted Helenio Herrera and said “he who does not give everything does not give anything”, while at the very beginning he made an interesting comment about our youth team, fresh from their Scudetto triumph at the weekend. “Normally we say that it’s the Primavera who have to look up to the first team, but on this occasion it’s us who have to learn from them.”
The second point Spalletti made was that the team really needs to be a team. When one journalist asked him if Ivan Perisic – reportedly headed for Manchester United – is a player that this Inter can afford to do without, he responded with a very clear message for everybody within the squad: “Let’s get something straight here. It’s several years that we haven’t won anything – either we do something different, or we keep having the results that we’ve always had. If we don’t change, we don’t improve, and if we don’t improve, we don’t live life well. It seems these last few years have taught us that one player on his own cannot determine whether we win a title or reach any other important objective. There are a lot of good players in this squad, of course, but these players must fit into the mechanisms of the team. This team has to be a team that functions as a team – I want all players to be willing to help out their teammates, to put their individual qualities at the disposition of the team. In the dressing room we speak about ‘us’, not about individuals. La Grande Inter wasn’t about Burgnich, Facchetti, Mazzola and so on – it was about Inter, so we all have to produce communal sweat for the same objective. There are no individual objectives without communal objectives.” Later on he came out with a great line that I think our players should pay particular attention to – “If I’m your friend when I pick you in the team but not your friend when I don’t, then I don’t want to be your friend. Either we’re friends or we’re not friends.”
The third and final concept I took from Spalletti’s words was the idea of ‘respect, but not fear’. Inter need to think like a big team to become a big team again – when asked about Juventus, for instance, he said “we need to respect them, but respect cannot be confused with fear. When we play against Juventus we’re not going to trip up on the final step of the stairs that leads to the pitch – we will head straight out onto the pitch to find out which one of us is better.” Similarly, he emphasized the idea of making winning the normality – “Inter have to acquire the tenacity and perseverance that enables them to produce permanent results, not occasional results.” During the Facebook Q&A, he was asked what game he is most looking forward to playing and replied “before thinking about games that can determine our season we need to start winning ‘normal’ matches. Every game is fundamental – in fact, every training session is extremely important to ensure you’re ready for each game.” There’s no point in beating Juventus if you don’t also beat the likes of Palermo, Crotone, Genoa and Bologna, to name but four smaller teams Inter slipped up against last season.
A lot of attention was also given to the type of football Spalletti will want to play at Inter, and he was very clear about his intentions in this regard. “To win matches, you have to score goals. The balance of the team is vital, but what’s most important is knowing how to attack the opposition’s defensive line – that is what our priority will be. As a team, we have to have the curiosity to go and see what’s behind the opposition’s defensive line, because that’s where we come into contact with their goal.” Expect us to attack, basically. In terms of what tactical set-up he’ll opt for, Spalletti said that 4-2-3-1 is the formation he’s always been most attached to as it gives you the most effective coverage of the space on the pitch – but he also emphasized that the team will need to know how to switch systems during a match. “The system only counts up to certain point; what matters is to adhere to the set of core principles that we introduce. If the team knows what we’re doing and where we want to go, even the best of teams will have to stand aside against us. On the other hand, if we don’t have a strong team mentality, a clear identity or character, it’ll be us that have to step aside because the others will sprint away from us.”
Onto the players, then. Spalletti sidestepped most of the questions concerning Inter’s transfer activity this summer, as he said it would be disrespectful to discuss this with reporters before he’d had the chance to discuss potential weak spots in the squad with his players – however he did state very clearly that ‘we absolutely must not get our signings wrong’. It probably reminded some of what Roma’s new sporting director Monchi said when he arrived in the capital a couple of months ago – ‘the problem is never being able to sell players, but buying badly.’ Spalletti also reminded people of the Financial Fair Play agreements that Inter have to respect, which is why it would be wrong to expect too much movement before the infamous 30 June. “The most important thing is that it’s clear, for the players that are there right from the beginning of pre-season and those who arrive on the final day of the mercato, that you must give everything in the time that we have available.”
At the same time, he seemed particularly enthusiastic about the (unenviable) task of improving what Inter already has, and used the example of Edin Dzeko. “Edin Dzeko is a player who was able to overturn all the critics surrounding him in the space of one season. What he did last season is what we will need to do with many players in this squad; one year you didn’t even want to be seen in public with Dzeko, while the next year he was the man who took us to second place.” According to Spalletti, our squad contains a lot of players who’ve been unable to express their true potential yet.
While initially he didn’t want to go into detail on any single player, eventually Spalletti did offer his thoughts on three members of our current squad. On Mauro Icardi: “Icardi has incredible qualities, so let’s not lose those. He’s better than Dzeko in the penalty area, and in fact it’s difficult to find anybody who’s better than him at those in-box movements. On top of those qualities though I suspect we will try and get him to help out his midfielders more, to hold the ball up and to help team move up the pitch when we’re under pressure. We’ll need Mauro at all times during matches.” On Joao Mario: “he’s an attack-minded player first and foremost, who likes attacking the opponent’s defensive line, playing important passes and using his quality all over the pitch. He’s a player that can help you command matches, and teams that command matches have much greater chances of winning them.” And finally on Yuto Nagatomo: “He’s a serious guy, it’s evident that he has all qualities of appartenenza and team spirit that we discussed earlier. He’s a lovely person – even as his opponent you could tell that – and has played both good and bad games like any footballer does. In terms of professionalism and quality of person nobody can criticise him, but we have lots of players in our squad and so I will need to sit down with club and discuss the best way forward.” A very polite way of saying ‘you’re nice, but no thanks’, essentially.
Finally, he had a message for all of Inter’s supporters around the world. “The passion of supporters is the beating heart of football; as a team we need to harness this passion, because it’s an extra resource for us. A slogan for the coming season could perhaps be ‘the more we are, the more we win’ – we have an incredible history that our supporters are currently unable to enjoy properly, but it’s fundamental to have them by our side as it helps us create that sense of attachment. We want to demonstrate to our supporters that we’re serious professionals and that we work seriously. The more we’re together, the more we pull in the same direction, the more we’ll be able to create a united club and bring Inter back into the position that its history tells us it should be in.”
So what do you think? Has Luciano made a good first impression? Is he the man to finally pull Inter out of the doldrums?