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A roundtable on Luciano Spalletti’s future with Inter Milan

The SoM team looks at how the boss has fared thus far and what his future may be.

Empoli v FC Internazionale - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Lately, once again after some months of “peace” or at least patience, Spalletti has been put under discussion by the Nerazzurri fans. The trigger has been the recent draw against PSV which meant the exclusion of FC Internazionale from the final stage of the Champion’s League.

Among the many reasons given to kick out Spalletti, the fans agree on some key points: his “lack of a winning mentality,” his stubborn insistence into putting Perisic in the line-up, his incapacity to read the game and therefore choose the right substitutes. In a recent survey on the popular Italian sport magazine, La Gazzetta dello Sport, readers were asked to vote the best coach for Inter Milan, and out of four options Spalletti ended up last, after Mourinho, Conte and Simeone.

Empoli v FC Internazionale - Serie A
Luciano Spalletti head coach of FC Internazionale smile during the Serie A match between Empoli and FC Internazionale at Stadio Carlo Castellani on December 29, 2018 in Empoli, Italy.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Whatever one might think of Spalletti, it is true that his silent peace with the fans has always been based on the results: no matter how good or bad the team would play, he would reach the expected results, at least so far. In his first year, he brought Inter back in the Champion’s League after six years without it, nothing more than that was expected from him, at least not result-wise.

On the other hand, results have been lacking as well recently. After the win against Frosinone, Spalletti has led the Nerazzurri through their most important week, eventually obtaining a loss without scoring goals against Juventus and Tottenham, a draw against AS Roma, PSV Eindhoven and Chievo Verona and only two very late, and yet very important wins against Napoli and Empoli.

Although very often Inter fans are known to be really impatient, it probably makes sense to draw some mid-term conclusions on Spalletti’s legacy so far, after one and half year as Coach in S. Siro. So, what does Serpents of Madonnina make out of it?

Marco: My opinion towards Spalletti has been changing a lot in the last two years.

At the beginning, I was really optimistic, but slowly my opinion started to shake. The first time that happened was when he substituted Davide Santon for Mauro Icardi when Inter Milan was leading 2-1 against Juventus.

I thought of that as a tactical mistake (eventually Santon was involved in both the goals taken by Samir Handanovic) but mostly as a very bad and weak message to the team. The same pattern was followed later by Spalletti in other games, sometimes without consequences, but it led me to believe that sometimes he’s not the best in reading the game’s moments, which might just be one of his weaknesses.

What I really can’t be patient with anymore though is something else: let’s be honest, after two seasons Inter Milan still doesn’t have a clear game plan nor does it have some kind of variety to put in place in a long season where sometimes teams’ defences might be closed and tight.

Spalletti’s plan seems to constantly be the same: pass it to the wings, and cross in the box. True, the team has gained some solidity in these two seasons, the mentality seems much stronger and the players don’t melt after one goal against (the wins against Tottenham and PSV were indeed the best moments, character-wise, of the season so far).

However, didn’t we have a solid team, with no game plan, already with Roberto Mancini? True, Spalletti’s plan got a bit ruined by the unexpected injury of a key player like Nainggolan, but can an entire plan really rely only on a 31-year-old player at his debut in a team with very high expectations? Maybe there should be a plan B. And since we are talking about it, maybe Radja Nainggolan wasn’t the best choice?

It’s pretty evident that the Belgian was a direct request of Spalletti, but was it worth Nicolo Zaniolo and the almost €31 complessive millions? Wasn’t Inter more in need of a technical, maybe younger player? It’s not a coincidence that the name that is circulating right now for the winter transfer window is the one of Baselli, a young playmaker playing for Cagliari.

Chievo Verona v FC Internazionale - Serie A
Radja Nainggolan of FC Internazionale falls to the ground during the Serie A match between Chievo Verona and FC Internazionale at Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi on December 22, 2018 in Verona, Italy.
Photo by Mario Carlini / Iguana Press/Getty Images

So no, Nainggolan’s exclusion is not a good enough excuse to not have a gamel plan that goes beyond the run and cross, not to me. And after two seasons it is worrying, it is my biggest worry around Spalletti, which again has done many other good things at Inter Milan. But let’s go more in detail. Even in what I consider the best game of the season, the 3-0 against Lazio, Inter Milan’s game was completely relying on the technical and physical skills of its best players, merely on their individuality. It didn’t look like a fluid game and system, but rather like an association of individualities, which is usually not something very reliable: players have moments, injuries, teams learn to face them, etc.

Having said this, are we really in a different place than we were with Roberto Mancini? Mancini was accused widely to have built a completely muscular team with no technique and only relying on its best players to bring a good result. Of course, this is just food for thought, for I don’t consider the two situations all the same.

Nowadays, Inter is indeed more solid and there’s some attempt to speed up the game and bring the pressure as higher as possible, but still, could anyone find a clear mark that Inter Milan leaves when playing, other than the plenty of crosses and one of the best strikers in the world to put them in? This is worrying because there’s a solid managing structure behind the team now, a solid club with a clear plan, and all we need is to grow and find continuity, not only in results. Yes, it is a great result to end up third, with the same points as the second one, in a group with PSV, Tottenham and Barcelona. But is it as great to not be able to win against a decent team with nothing to gain, like PSV?

Is it possible to not be able to find a path to circumnavigate a tight defence other than crossing and hoping for Icardi to get it somehow?

I like Spalletti, and I don’t believe, like some fans claim, that he doesn’t have the proper mentality. Quite the opposite, I believe that the mentality and the trust within the group has improved, but how long can we accept results, when they come, with a total lack of a plan? So, my take is that Spalletti definitely has to end the season, because it’s pointless to let him go now, it’s unfair, and because there’s no good alternative. Speaking of which, I believe criticism has always to be constructive, so who could be a good alternative?

For me there’s no doubt: Cholo Simeone. His team plays a decent football, has a clear mark which is high pressure, tight and solid defending and fast counters, which has made Atletico Madrid one of the toughest teams to face. He seems to perfectly fit Inter Milan’s DNA, and the line-up might already assist him, with the introduction of 2-3 more technical players.

Robbie: When evaluating a coach I think we have to look at three things. What have the results been? Where is the team now? Where is the team going? Under Spalletti, the results have improved.

The team is in a top-three spot that looks like it will be held by the end of the season. Lastly, the team looks like it will have a UCL spot, should make a run in Europa to gain those important coefficient points, and contest Napoli for the 2nd best team in Italy.

FC Internazionale v PSV - UEFA Champions League Group B
Antonio Candreva (L) of FC Internazionale is challenged by Trent Sainsbury of PSV during the UEFA Champions League Group B match between FC Internazionale and PSV at San Siro Stadium on December 11, 2018 in Milan, Italy.
Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Spalletti got a two-year contract that ends after this season, what has he done that makes it so he shouldn’t get at least one more year. Every single goal that Inter wanted to achieve he has hit. In his first season, the goal was qualifying for the UEFA Champions League. Nothing else mattered.

He accomplished that goal. It may have taken dramatics but the goal was achieved with a restricted transfer window I might add. In his second season, there were no clear goals other than to continue to progress. I believe that Spalletti has the Nerazzurri in a better spot now than this time last year.

The UCL was always going to be difficult since Inter were in Pot 4. Drawing Barcelona and Tottenham could not have gone much worse. The only reason Inter fans are upset they did not advance out of the group is because they performed so well to start. I also think to say PSV was not a motivated team in that final game is a little harsh. They were all hyped to play that game and be the spoiler. The players had so much emotion and they did have nothing to play for. Away goals are the reason that Inter did not go through, it is not just because they could not beat PSV. Spurs got the EXACT same results as Inter. The difference was Inter sat back and defended in London and got punished late in the game.

Is that Spalletti’s fault since that was his game plan? Yes.

The problem is, most managers who are available would have done the same thing. Inter are an inferior team to Tottenham. I don’t think that is a knock on Inter either. Spurs are a talented team. I was fine with that strategy because I think if Inter went for it and pushed, Spurs would have crushed them.

The combination of Son, Christian Eriksen, Lucas Moura, and Harry Kane to top it off would have put multiple goals in on them. This strategy gave Inter the best chance and it was unfortunate it didn’t work out. Diego Simeone was mentioned as a possible candidate, but why would he leave Atletico Madrid. He has everything he needs there and a better team.

Jose Mourinho would be a nice add but I would rather Spalletti. Mourinho will always have a special place in my heart for the Treble. His play is outdated and I don’t want him to ruin his legacy. Other coaches will appear as we get closer to the summer but if Spalletti gets Top 3 in Serie A, at least semi-finals in Europa and Coppa Italia then I don’t know how you don’t give him just one more year. I believe he would deserve that much.

Luca: I think Spalletti is on track to achieve the clubs goals which were set at the start of the season. No doubt it was disappointing to be eliminated from the Champions League, but it certainly wasn’t a shock. In Serie A we look highly likely to qualify for the CL again. We’re playing an attractive brand of football (usually!) and he is improving a number of players in the squad. If this all continues (combined with a decent run the Europa League and Coppa), I have no problem with Spalletti staying on.

Tottenham Hotspur v FC Internazionale - UEFA Champions League Group B
Danilo D’Ambrosio of Inter Milan battles for the ball with Christian Eriksen of Tottenham Hotspurduring the Group B match of the UEFA Champions League between Tottenham Hotspur and FC Internazionale at Wembley Stadium on November 28, 2018 in London, United Kingdom.
Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

That said, I don’t think he can coast through the rest of the season and nor is his position guaranteed. His squad is far superior to what it was in 2017/18, so I expect to see us significantly improve our points tally. I believe we are about on-par with where we were entering the last winter break, so it will be up to Spalletti to ensure the team doesn’t stumble through January/February the way they have in the past. Furthermore, the club should be aiming to close the gap on Juve. Last season we finished 23 points off top, and we’re currently 14 points behind them. No doubt they have improved, but so have we and this would be a good indicator of progress.

The club also needs to consider its own future. No doubt, the name on everyone’s list is Diego Simeone. I believe the club feels the same way, but how long do they wait? If Cholo decides to renew his contract for another season, do Inter remain in a holding pattern until he decides to leave?

If so, what does that do to player/fans morale? If we genuinely believe Simeone is the only man to bring success then the club should be pushing to bring him in rather than waiting. If they do make a strong play and he says no, then holding on to Spalletti for too long could be more detrimental - especially if other big name managers (not Mourinho - I’d hate to see him return and ruin his legacy) become available.

In short, if Spalletti continues to improve the team at an appropriate rate then he fully deserves to stay. If, however, the club already knows who they want to replace him then they should be pushing for that to happen sooner than later.

Matt: I think any conversation about changing the manager has to include a realistic discussion about expectations.

When Spalletti was hired, it was Champions League and competing in the league — which qualification to the Champions League would imply that is already the case.

Obviously ever team wants to win the league, win the national cup and the Champions League, but realistically, it just doesn’t happen that often. In fact, since 1966-67, there have been just seven treble winners: Celtic (1967), Ajax (1972), PSV Eindhoven (1988), Manchester United (1999), FC Barcelona (2009), Internazionale Milano (2010), Bayern Munich (2013) and Barcelona again (2015).

Empoli v FC Internazionale - Serie A
Joao Mario of FC Internazionale in action during the Serie A match between Empoli and FC Internazionale at Stadio Carlo Castellani on December 29, 2018 in Empoli, Italy.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

My point is we have to have an honest discussion about what the expectations are for Inter Milan and what they were when Spalletti was hired. I believe, if memory serves, the expectation wasn’t to come out and win the Scudetto in the first or second year. I don’t even remember the Coppa Italia being mentioned.

But, being competitive in all three competitions was the expectation. To that end, Spalletti has fulfilled the expectations ... and actually sooner than was thought to be possible. Finishing in the top four and qualifying for the Champions League in the first season considering where the team was just a season prior is actually pretty remarkable.

Have we won every match? No. Have we lost matches we should have won? Yes. Has our play on the field been as strong as it should be considering the players we have? No. But, I think we have to ask ourselves whether that is a tactical issue or a mentality issue. Tactical completely falls on Spalletti. Mental, on the other hand ... the players have to shoulder some of the burden there. In my opinion, I think it has been a little of both.

Last winter’s collapse was a mental issue. Drawing with PSV in the final group game of the Champions League ... that is a tactical issue.

Removing coaches is typically a very easy decision to make for ownership. Losing too much, player criticism and losing control of the locker room are three ingredients for a coach to be fired. Thus far, I really haven’t seen any of that.

Inter has won 12 Serie A matches this season — just behind Juventus and Napoli and three in front of fourth-place Lazio. They have lost just four — only Juventus and Napoli have lost fewer.

Additionally, the players seem to love Spalletti and there have been no reported locker room issues. In fact, seeing a resurgence of players like Joao Mario are a direct tribute to Spalletti’s ability to manage players. Mario wanted nothing to do with Inter or Italy this time last season. Now, he is becoming an integral part of the squad.

So, using those metrics, Spalletti should be safe barring a major collapse. We still have the Europa League and the Coppa Italia we are competing for. The Scudetto may seem out of reach, but in Serie A ... anything can happen.

What do you think? Post your comments below!