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On Luciano Spalletti and his Magic Wand

Why Spalletti alone won’t be able to fix Inter’s issues.

AS Roma v SS Lazio - TIM Cup Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

While there’s still plenty of time for this to change, it’s been no secret that several of us here at SoM (myself included) have been rather pessimistic about Inter Milan’s Mercato thus far.

We’re twenty days into July; yet the club have only signed a backup keeper, Milan Skriniar, and Borja Valero. These are by no means bad additions to make, but there’s a concerning lack of clarity around the Ivan Perisic situation, and we’re still waiting to see if Suning will be able to make a big splash to improve the fullback and defensive midfield positions – let alone properly replace Perisic if the Croatian does leave for England.

One of the prevailing themes among Interisti this offseason is the thought that regardless of what happens, this summer transfer window should be viewed as a success because the club recruited a top-tier manager in former AS Roma boss, Luciano Spalletti.

I fully agree that Spalletti was a massive coup for the club. He has a proven track record in Italy, and his take-no-prisoners, demanding approach may be the motivation this current group of players needs to perform well again. However, in my opinion, it’s dangerous to believe that the mere presence of a good manager is enough to return Inter to a top four finish in Serie A.

To further examine this, let’s take a closer look at a recent success story for another “magic wand” type manager—one, who like Spalletti, is known for unifying dressing rooms and helping underperforming players regain top form—Chelsea’s Antonio Conte.

Like Spalletti with Inter now, Conte entered a top club after one of their most disappointing seasons in recent history. After winning the league title in 2014/15; Chelsea finished in tenth place in 2015/16, fired Jose Mourinho, and had a noticeably divided dressing room.

Conte took over the reins at Stamford Bridge, unified his players, changed the formation, and the rest is history. Chelsea went on a superb run and won the Premier League with two matches to spare.

If he can take Chelsea from tenth to first in one year, then surely another top manager like Spalletti can take Inter from seventh to fourth in Serie A, right? Not necessarily, and there’s more to Conte and Chelsea’s story than that.

Chelsea v Sunderland - Premier League
Antonio Conte and Chelsea should be a case study on how to give a first-season manager what he needs to succeed.
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

While Conte was instrumental in restoring the winning culture at Chelsea, so to was the support he received from owner Roman Abramovich and Chelsea’s board. While many undeniably important contributors (Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fàbregas, Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, Willian, etc.) were already at the club when Conte arrived, Abramovich backed the Italian manager with significant signings before the summer transfer window closed. During that window, Chelsea added N’Golo Kanté, Marcos Alonso, Michy Batshuayi, and David Luiz (spending over £118m in the process) to add to group of players that had won the league two years earlier.

These reinforcements, combined with the return to form of Chelsea’s existing core, and Conte’s tactical acumen allowed Chelsea to climb from 10th place to first in the Italian’s inaugural season. But let’s be clear, it took all three equally significant factors for that to happen.

Unlike Chelsea last year, Inter’s current squad isn’t good enough to achieve the club’s goals as is (seriously, just look at our defense). Also unlike Conte’s situation last year, Spalletti doesn’t represent a major tactical switch for Inter. His predecessor, former manager Stefano Pioli, used Spalletti’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation for most of his tenure last season, after all.

While I have now doubt, Spalletti will improve the club’s cohesion, how much of an improvement can we really expect from Inter’s current crop of players?

FC Crotone v FC Internazionale - Serie A Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

At this point, what you see is pretty much what you get with Ansaldi, Medel, Santon, Eder, Miranda, D’Ambrosio, Nagatomo, and Candreva. And while Mauro Icardi is amazing, you cannot deny that talent-wise, Inter will be hurt if Ivan Perisic leaves for Manchester United.

I’m cautiously optimistic that Spalletti will be able to continue to develop and improve young players like Roberto Gagliardini, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Jeison Murillo, Marcelo Brozovic, and Gabriel Barbosa, but it would be unfair to expect the Italian manager to mold all of them into world-beaters.

Even if Spalletti is a tactical genius, this current group of players simply isn’t good enough to get the job done as is, which is why writers like myself have been advocating for the club to bring in major reinforcements this summer. With all due respect to Skriniar and Valero, that hasn’t happened yet, and even if Inter add Dalbert, I think it would be unrealistic to expect the 23-year-old Brazilian fullback to significantly improve Inter’s back line on his own.

All of this is to say that Inter really need to get their act together this transfer window, and quickly. I like Spalletti, and I’m excited to see where he can take this club, but it won’t be far without the ability to bring in players that’ll truly make a difference.

I sincerely hope that Suning, Walter Sabatini, and Piero Ausilio aren’t counting on Luciano Spalletti to wave his magic wand and miraculously solve Inter’s problems; because however undeniably talented he is, Spalletti doesn’t have one. No manager does.