Although a glance at the Serie A table would suggest that Inter have enjoyed a nigh-on perfect start to the 2017-18 season, it’s fair to say that not everything is running smoothly for Luciano Spalletti and company as we head towards the October international break.
Despite the Nerazzurri racking up 16 points from a possible 18 in their first 6 league matches of the campaign, some people remain sceptical about our chances of enjoying a truly successful season due to underlying issues with the team that have begun to emerge.
Be it the chronic lack of fluidity within Inter’s play up in the first two months of the season, as showcased in Sunday’s stodgy victory over Genoa at San Siro, or their somewhat concerning lack of squad depth, which leaves us a couple of injuries away from a genuine selection headache (and not of the good sort), there are legitimate reasons to be harbouring doubts as September makes way for October, even if the classifica is currently smiling on us.
And on Thursday the aforementioned problem of squad depth came into even sharper focus, as Inter lost one of their precious few reinforcements in defence to a long-term injury.
Towards the end of the first half in Inter’s inaugural UEFA Youth League match with Dynamo Kyiv on Wednesday, which the Nerazzurri would go on to draw 2-2, centre-back Zinho Vanheusden was taken off on a stretcher after sustaining an injury to his left knee.
From the moment the Belgian was pictured in tears as he was being removed from the pitch at the Stadio Breda, everybody feared the worst as far as the nature of the injury was concerned - and sure enough, those fears were confirmed on Thursday afternoon when Inter released a brief statement via the club website.
“The tests performed on Zinho Vanheusden have revealed that the player has a sprained anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee,” it read. “The defender will undergo surgery in the coming days.”
It has not been specified for how long Vanheusden will be on the sidelines, but given that ACL injuries are about as serious as injuries can get for professional footballers, we can be certain that the 18 year-old will be out of action for several months, if not the entire season.
It remains to be seen whether ‘spraining’ your cruciate ligament is more or less serious than ‘tearing’ it, which I believe is the verb you see used more frequently in these unfortunate instances, but I suspect we’re looking at 4-5 months minimum all the same.
Speaking to Belgian outlet Sporza.be, Zinho’s father Johan had the following to say: “Zinho is obviously very upset and disappointed because he’s managed to break into Inter’s first-team squad this year, as well as receiving his first international call-up to Belgium’s Under-21s. On top of that, he’s also been in talks with Inter over a contract extension. This is the worst moment of his career to date, but there are many worse fates that one can suffer in life - Zinho is already in a good place mentally about the whole thing.”
Vanheusden is still yet to make his senior debut for Inter in an official match, but his exceptional performances with Stefano Vecchi’s Primavera side last season earned him a promotion to the first-team squad at the beginning of this summer, so he would probably have been granted that honour at some point this season. Most Interisti first became aware of the Belgian when he scored the opening goal in Inter’s victory over Fiorentina in the Primavera Scudetto Final back in June.
While nobody can question that this is a truly devastating blow for young Zinho personally - and while you can’t help but feel desperately sorry for him, particularly at such a tender age - I think it would be easy to overstate how much of a problem this injury represents for Luciano Spalletti and the first team.
Certain news outlets stated on Thursday that Vanheusden’s long-term injury has provoked an ‘emergency’ in defence for Inter, but in reality it has not changed that much. The Belgian represented Spalletti’s fifth choice at centre-back and thus his third reserve option, with both Andrea Ranocchia and Danilo D’Ambrosio ahead of him in that particular pecking order - as confirmed (virtually) by Spalletti himself in a recent interview given to Gazzetta dello Sport.
Therefore while he would probably have been granted a few minutes at some stage, it is unlikely to have a big impact on Spalletti’s team selections for the coming months.
Despite that, though, this injury still serves as a stark reminder to everyone that Inter are very short in numbers at the back, and that it would take very little for a crisis of sorts to ensue.
Should something happen to either Milan Skriniar or Miranda between now and January (and at this moment in time we don’t know exactly how much money Inter will be able to spend in the winter window), the only recognised centre-back that would be able to step in and replace them is Andrea Ranocchia; a man pretty much everyone assumed would be leaving the club for good during the summer.
Should both of them be unavailable for any one match - say for instance that Skriniar has a minor niggle, while Miranda is suspended for an accumulation of yellow cards - then we would be forced to form a makeshift Ranocchia-D’Ambrosio partnership that does not exactly inspire me or anybody else with confidence.
For the time being let’s pray that that never comes to pass, but the point is that it quite easily could. For all the good words that have been spent in the past month or so about our ‘functional’ summer transfer business, the fact is that our squad has big holes that cannot be explained away or justified by ‘we’re not in Europe this season’.
It’s fair to say that Lady Luck has been on our side at times during these first six games of the season, but to stand a serious chance of qualifying for next season’s UEFA Champions League we’re going to need it to stay on our side. Should somebody more integral than Zinho pick up such an injury, which is eminently possible, we could be in serious trouble. Our squad is very thin, irrespective of how many competitions we’re playing in.
But now isn’t the time to point the finger or launch an attack on the club for their imperfect transfer policy. Now is the time to rally round an extraordinarily talented and extraordinarily unfortunate young lad who will need all of our support over the coming months.
Just like Stefano Vecchi has: “On Tuesday we were in the gym talking about your hopes and dreams. This injury doesn’t change anything; it’s merely a small bump on the long and prosperous road that will be your career. Within a few months you’ll come back stronger than you were before. Ti voglio bene.”
Just like Ivan Perisic has: “Stay strong little one, I’m with you.”
And just like Andrea Pinamonti has. “In the first photo one understands the pain you’re feeling at this moment in time, as well as the sadness everyone else is feeling as they watch you go through that pain - myself more than anyone else! Whilst living together I’ve grown very fond of you and come to see you as a brother, which is why it’s hard to find the right words in a moment like this. In the other two photos, meanwhile, you can see just how much love you put into this sport, with the smile and determination that you’ve always had - as well as how I want to see you as soon as possible! No matter what happens you know for sure that I’ll always be there for you and am ready to stay close to you throughout your recuperation! Get well soon my brother - we’re all waiting for you and we need you!”
Nella prima foto si può capire quanto dolore tu abbia provato e quanta tristezza ci sia in ogni persona che la vede, io prima di tutti! Vivendo insieme mi sono affezionato a te come un fratello, ed è proprio per questo che in questo momento ci sono poche parole da dire.. nelle altre due foto invece si vede quanto amore tu metta in questo sport ed è così, con il sorriso e la determinazione che hai sempre avuto, che voglio vederti il prima possibile! Per qualsiasi cosa sai per certo che io ci sarò sempre per te e sono pronto a starti vicino per questo tuo recupero! Forza e coraggio fratello mio, ti aspettiamo tutti, abbiamo bisogno di te! ❤️
Just me with a tear in his eye? Alright then.
Get well soon, Zinho. Like Andrea said: forza e coraggio.