As an Inter fan, last season was pretty complete as far as a nightmare goes. We started by parting company with our coach just a few days before the start of the season. We then picked a young coach with no prior Serie A coaching experience.
After that experiment went predictably pear-shaped, we showed our 'traditional' lack of patience and promptly got rid of him. Next, we got a journeyman coach who somewhat steadied the ship, but there was always an inevitability about the whole situation and results became disastrous towards the end and yes, we parted with our third coach of the season and ended in seventh place, a whopping 29 points behind the leaders! Still, we are the only club never to be relegated from Serie A, and Italian treble winning club. However, rather than depending on a Real Madrid for the latter stat, I hope next season we are actively defending our own records.
Luciano Spalletti was officially unveiled as coach of Inter on June 14 (the official announcement came June 9). As we now transition to yet another coaching setup, there are a few things I would like to see and hear from our new management. Spalletti was clearly not our first choice and probably not even our second. But that does not matter as he has a proven record in Serie A, albeit without any Scudettos thus far. He took on a floundering Roma squad midseason in 2016 and improved it in all areas finishing a respectable third. He built on that success and brought them to within touching distance of champions Juventus last season. I am hopeful he can bring the same level of man-management and individual player improvements that he did in Rome.
Will Beckman covered the entirety of Spalletti's press conference in an excellent post here. In this post, I am going to focus on a subset of Spalletti's statements and see what insights we can draw from them.
A System and Identity vs. Clueless Headless Chickens
Spalletti on ingraining core principles into the squad:
"The system only counts up to certain point; what matters is to adhere to the set of core principles that we introduce......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."
The lack of a clear team identity has been very evident in the last two to three seasons. Systems have changed with coaches and coaches have not stuck to a philosophy. As a fan it too often felt like we had eleven individuals just running around clueless. This was particularly evident when the team went a goal behind and lacked strong self-belief that is needed to fight back.
So one of the things I was most hoping to hear from our new coach is citing the importance of establishing a clear team identity. The fact that he has achieved sustained success in Serie A with Roma, gives me more hope than it did with his predecessors Frank De Boer and Stefano Pioli. While words without action do not count for anything, I was pleased to hear Spalletti wanting to infuse the team with his ideas and establish a strong team identity above all else. He also has the advantage of having a full summer to work with his squad on establishing this. I will be eager to see how we do in this department next season.
Improving existing and under-achieving players
Spalletti on Edin Dzeko's improvement:
"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."
During his press conference, Spalletti cited his work with Edin Dzeko and highlighting how he was able to improve a much maligned player. While he went on to compare Dzeko and Icardi, I was more interested to see how he could bring the best out of our talented but under-achieving squad members such as Kondogbia, (to a lesser extent) Perisic, and others.
Given FFP regulations, it is unlikely we will be able to do a complete squad overhaul. At least not without some very creative transfer accounting through Suning, but that's a story for a different day. Our somewhat lavish spending in both 2015 and 2016, and lack of Champions League revenue means the coach is going to have to find a way to get the most out of our current squad. I was very pleased to hear that the coach understands this and wants to work with the squad to improve them and not just resort to the transfer market. Again, we will have to wait for August 20 and beyond to make a better judgment, but whatever he has said thus far in relation to this is a positive start.
Understanding his key and fringe players
Spalletti 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.”
Spalletti on Yuto Nagatomo and fringe players:
"…..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."
For Spalletti to be successful, he has to clearly identify members of the squad who have the quality and ability to let Inter dream of finishing in the top three. I am glad he recognized the importance of Joao Mario to this squad. We paid a lot of money for him (some might say we overpaid) and most feel that he has a lot to offer. He was under-utilized last season and whenever he had a good game, Inter seemed to played well. As a fan, I hope he can quickly identify the quality members in his squad and get rid of the so-called deadwood as soon as possible.
This will allow the squad to develop familiarity with the coach's methods and an innate understanding of playing with each other that was severely lacking last season. I really hope he is ruthless when it comes to clearing out the players he does not see part of his plans as our squad is large but has quantity over quality and that showed in abundance last season. Come August 20, my hope is that Spalletti has a 90% idea of his first eleven and first choice substitutes. I will be watching closely to see what progress he makes in this department in the coming weeks.
Recognizing the importance of Inter Primavera:
"They brought home a very important result...I hope that our guys take a lesson from this success. Normally it is them who look up to us, this time it is us who have to look at them. They do us honor."
While this quote is attributed more to the Primavera title triumph, my hope is that Spalletti can integrate youngsters such as Andrea Pinamonti into the first team much more successfully than his predecessors managed. I really hope that the new coach gives a chance to youth and prefers them to signing journeyman players.
On new signings:
“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.”
As with any coaching change, everyone is eager to see what players the new coach is wanting to get in. Spalletti's first press conference did not yield much in the way of his transfer policy so this is something we will have to wait and watch. The elephant in the room is Inter's FFP enforced restrictions. Inter has to raise 30 million Euros by June 30 and the expectation is once that hurdle is cleared, the rest of the transfer market plans will start to take shape. Regardless, as a fan I would love to see the coach clearly communicate where he thinks the current squad is lacking quality and depth, and work quickly on addressing those needs.
Now that Spalletti is our coach, Inter fans need to come together and back him all the way. His body of work is significant even if a little lacking in the silverware department.
One press conference is clearly not enough to draw any major insights but the coach seems to be saying all the right things and is keen to hit the ground running. The work done over the next few weeks will have a large say in where we finish come end of the season. I wish our new coach all the success in helping us get to the level we all believe Inter truly belongs to. Forza Inter!