For many Inter fans, the recent departure of Leonardo has come as a shock. The Interesti faithful were expecting the club to sign players instead of a coaching team. A team without a coach in the middle of the transfer window is never ideal, but it is certainly better than having to change coach midseason.
I strongly believe, and I am not alone, that Leonardo would be a mediocre coach at best. At crucial times last season, when Inter were within a whisker of making a serious claim at the Scudetto, the team’s performance was well below par. The Champions League was no different as the embarrassing exit at the hands of an average Schalke team showed Inter’s tactical naivety.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom however, and Leo must be given credit where due.
His teams showed a never say die spirit that was lacking under Benitez earlier in the season. Inter had the best record of teams coming back from a losing position to salvage a draw or score a win. The cynics among us would say, if the coach had better prepared the team defensively, they could have had a "boring" 2-0 win instead of a harrowing 4-2.
A coach must adapt to the players that are there at his disposal.
The current Inter squad is good at a lot of things but playing free-flowing football and holding a high defensive back line is not one of them. Inter’s defense does not have the paciest defenders, exemplified by the displays of talented but slow Ranocchia.
This team’s success was built on trying to let the opposition have the ball and stifle them by closing out the space and hitting them on quick counter-attacks. One could argue that Inter’s most successful periods have been achieved by playing defensive football.
But that’s a story for another day.
With Leonardo gone, Inter must make a quick yet sensible decision on who comes in to replace him. The initial hot favorites were former Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa and Fiorentina coach Sinisa Mihajlovic.
Bielsa turned down the Inter offer citing personal reasons. This could be read as a competitive offer from Athletic Bilbao, if reports in Spain are to be believed. Should Inter feel aggrieved that they missed out on him? He has had a solitary season coaching in Europe at unfancied Espanyol. Coaching at the international and club level are chalk and cheese. Success in one is never an accurate barometer of performance on the other.
If reports from Florence are to be believed, Mihajlovic has also decided to stay with his current club. Is this the worst thing that could happen to Inter? His record with the Viola has been average at best and managing a top three team is hugely different from his current job. With a few more years of experience under his belt, he would be a good choice, but right now it seems that staying put would be best for all parties involved.
The other suspects have been England manager Fabio Capello, former Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti and Porto boss Villas Boas. If Inter sign Capello now and end up paying the English FA a huge compensation, fans would be asking why the same was not done last season, when the Italian was a potential target.
Villas Boas has a reported buy-out clause of €15 million. Inter’s reluctance to spend senselessly in the recent past should make this move doubtful. Moreover, Boas would want to cement his reputation with Porto in the Champions League this season.
Ancelotti’s case is a curious one.
He is a free agent so to speak, yet neither party seems to be interested in a move. If Inter were trying to sign Kaka to get one up on their crosstown neighbors, they would be better served getting the services of Ancelotti while throwing sand in the faces of Berlusconi and Co. The biggest stumbling block would be the manager’s affection for Milan. His credentials are doubtless, and if Moratti and Branca can come up with an offer to sweet to resist, Inter might just pull off the coup of the season.
Guus Hiddink’s name has also been discussed in the media. But there is no reason to believe why he would reject Chelsea for Inter given his earlier spell in London.
Delio Rossi and Gian Piero Gasperini are two other names that have come up in the Italian media. Milan showed faith in the abilities in Allegri and were rewarded with a Scudetto. Should Inter also follow suit and pick an experienced Italian coach who would most definitely not be outwitted in the Serie A? Such an experiment has every likelihood of being a short term success in Serie A but potentially disastrous in Europe.
Then comes the name of Pep Guardiola.
A number of media reports in Italy claim that he is likely to leave Barca at the end of the 2011-12 campaign, and Inter is his desired destination. If that were so, it would seem that the coaching job at Inter is very short term in nature. This could explain why more than a few coaches have distanced themselves from the job. Yet, it remains unconfirmed and one isn’t even sure if getting Guardiola is the right move in the first place for a club like Inter, with the players they’ve got.
That leaves Inter with few apparent choices.
If Moratti does have a deal sewn up to bring Guardiola in 2012, maybe he should hand the reins over to assistant manager Beppe Baresi for this season. He has been an assistant to Mourinho, Benitez and Leonardo, so he should know what makes this team tick and what does not. Having played in Serie A, he should have the tactical know-how required to manage at this level. Besides, he was in-charge of Inter’s youth system and the splendid results shown by the Primavera team are for all to see.
Baresi knows the players in the Primavera team better than anybody and would be able to blood those talented youngsters into the first team. Moratti should look inside the club rather than outside. Inter have already seen how big a gamble it is when you sign a manager—it's probably time to take one on someone who has been an Interesti all his life.
This is a subject that might raise a lot of debate and everyone is an expert in their own right. I look forward to everyone’s comments and criticism.