With Inter sacking Stefano Pioli ten days ago, fans of the Nerazzurri can expect another summer rife with rumours and speculation.
While it may be too early to talk about the numerous candidates set to replace him, it isn’t premature to discuss what Inter’s future manager will need to do to keep both the club (and his own reputation) afloat.
Here are five key issues that have to be addressed if the blue side of Milan is to have anything to celebrate next season.
1. Work on the defence
The Nerazzurri’s back line is a leaky ship, a major problem in a league where scoring one more than the opposition has never been a sustainable model. Jeison Murillo is inconsistent, Gary Medel can’t be allowed to learn a new role in his thirties, and even Joao Miranda is starting to lose composure.
The oft-lamented full-backs are another problem: in modern football, a strong team has to have that extra ace up its sleeve, especially when the opposition knows that Inter have great wingers, and will go to great lengths to stifle them.
Trouble is, the Nerazzurri’s Financial Fair Play issues may prevent them from splurging — the decision to pull out of the Ricardo Rodriguez race possible proof that a major overhaul is not in the cards, and that signings may be more modest than expected. Whoever takes over will, in all likelihood, have to make do with the Samirs, the Francesco Acerbis and the Danilo D’Ambrosios of this world.
While Antonio Conte and Diego Simeone have done brilliantly in difficult circumstances and fellow candidate Mauricio Pochettino has developed Tottenham’s backline into one of Europe’s best, Luciano Spalletti — the current heir presumptive according to the media — boasts a better record than expected. Helping the unheralded Federico Fazio and Emerson Palmieri shine at Roma despite a raft of injuries is good preparation for this Inter squad.
2. Develop the talent available
Though many of us were wrong to believe that Inter’s squad was second only to Juventus’, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t genuine future prospects there. Rather than blundering through another revolution, the Beneamata’s new gaffer will need to take the likes of Roberto Gagliardini and Joao Mario to the next level, not throw them to the wolves when things go wrong.
The former especially has the potential to be a long-term star with Italy, and a club legend. The Portuguese is both promising and too much of an investment to be jettisoned, which explains why Ever Banega, not Mario, is being linked with a departure.
3. Make the team more efficient and involve Mauro Icardi
It’s a scenario fans have rightly complained about all season, the Nerazzurri getting themselves into promising positions before a poor cross (or an adventurous Antonio Candreva long-ranger) have nullified the buildup.
The attacking potential will be there, even if Ivan Perisic leaves — Domenico Berardi being slotted in as his replacement. The issue seems to have more to do with tactics than personnel, anyway: Inter could learn from Juventus, or even Spalletti’s Roma, who developed a more solid system that knows how to attack opponents but keep the formation cohesive.
Rather than attack Mauro Icardi as some fans have done, Inter would do well to realise that he has strengths worth exploiting — and work out how to get the ball to him more (he has seven Serie A assists to go along with his 24 goals) without blatantly exposing the defence.
4. Be able to impose himself on the club
Inter’s recent managers have tended to ignore — or at least not get involved in — what goes on upstairs, only to be stabbed in the back when things went wrong.
In a club where the Roberto Mancinis and the Jose Mourinhos are a blueprint for success, whoever sits on the bench will have to be ready to fight his corner among the directors.
As much as Nerazzurri nation hopes that new “technical coordinator” Walter Sabatini will bring order to the club’s hierarchy, it’s more realistic to assume that Inter will opt for another half-measure, and keep a front office that is riddled with rivalry and infighting — as the latest comments from sporting director Piero Ausilio indicate.
5. Earn UEFA Champions League qualification
This point partly contradicts what we said about talent development. This is what it’s like to work at Inter, where the leash is always a short one.
With UEFA gifting Serie A a fourth Champions League slot next season, a project as ambitious as Suning’s can’t afford to swing and miss.
As much as gradually building a club (from the back, if possible) would be the best way to go, it’s too much to assume that Inter will allow their future manager to miss out on the top tier.
This is hardly congenial to a squad that is chock-a-block with young talents (Gabigol, Gianluca Caprari) who won’t get enough playing time.
Whatever happens next season, let’s hope the faithful are complaining about Gabigol’s lack of playing time, rather than missing out on fourth.