Hiring Giuseppe Marotta after he was ousted by Juventus at the end of seven consecutive Serie A titles was a shock move for Inter. Adding former Bianconeri Coach Antonio Conte confirmed the Nerazzurri had decided if they couldn’t beat them, they’d hire’em, or at least the people who laid the foundations for the juggernaut we see today.
Under the ownership of the Moratti family, Inter saw success, Jose Mourinho’s Treble being the most obvious, along with the Giovanni Trapattoni years. Going all the way back to the Helenio Herrera and his Grande Inter side, there have been some incredible teams, but especially in recent years, they have been more dependent on a Coach, a group of players or circumstance, rather than through a continual plan.
The three Coaches mentioned above all won with Inter by having grit and determination, a solid defensive commitment and they were all strong characters. They relied on their talent upfront to often play with a freedom when in possession, but they also had to know their defensive responsibilities, so there certainly is a similarity between these three eras.
Despite this seemingly looking like an obvious DNA for the club, too often Inter opted for simply throwing money at the problem.
Massimo Moratti had been superb for Inter. The petroleum magnate is said to have spent €1.5bn since taking over from Ernesto Pellegrini in 1995. There were many record signings bought in this time, from Christian Vieri to Ronaldo, from Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Hernan Crespo. It was true the owner loved a star attraction, and it says a great deal that his favourite signing of all was Alvaro Recoba. There were perhaps however, too many players of an offensive nature and not enough Javier Zanetti types.
Without delving into what could have been, Inter have a rich history and new ownership and at the beginning of this season a new structure. Marotta and Conte set to work quickly, they wanted Inter to have an identity, to portray the right image on and off the pitch, and they wanted to win. The key was recruitment and a message that players arriving at Inter would have to work and show respect, those were Conte’s first words in training. It reminded many of his first encounter with his players in the Juventus dressing room. No more PR disasters like last season and the dreaded ‘Icardi saga.’
It did not need Hercule Poirot to root out the bad apples in the dressing room. A quick espresso with Luciano Spalletti would have seen him list Mauro Icardi, Joao Mario, Ivan Perisic and others as the main protagonists. These players, for all their natural talent, were moved on in any way possible and Marotta helped Conte bring in the quality he needed, even if they missed out on a few targets like Edin Dzeko. Now the training ground is, according to players like Danilo D’Ambrosio, is a place where they are worked hard, but are clear of their goals.
The football hasn’t been perfect from Inter, but the intensity and attitude have. The Champions League game against Slavia Prague was a very ‘Pazza’ result, but the disgust that resonated from all involved afterwards was clear. This was followed up with a win in the Derby Della Madonnina, then down to 10 men they still saw off Sampdoria, so the Nerazzurri are developing a never say die attitude where winning is all that counts. There is a togetherness and a backbone that didn’t exist before and for Inter this is a huge improvement.
The defensive aspect will always be key for Conte, that and his ability to get his players to integrate into his system. His former assistant Massimo Carrera said this week that the Coach has the team playing as they want to. He noted Inter are aggressive, compact and more importantly they are together.
The Nerazzurri have only conceded two goals so far this Serie A campaign and that is testament to the project taking shape. There has also been a focus on giving Inter an Italian core (with more Azzurri than Juve nowadays), a feeling they haven’t had for some time.
Marotta and Conte have the blueprint from Juventus and with Inter they have the ownership to back them. With Juve embarking in a new direction under Maurizio Sarri, it is possible now to argue that Inter look more like ‘The Old Lady’ than they do.
It is true the Bianconeri may go on and take things to a new level, but this isn’t Inter’s issue. Instead the pragmatic and professional edicts the hierarchy are pushing show that, irrelevant of personnel, Inter will be built on high moral character, stern defences and a sprinkling of stardust.
For the Milanese, a team that has a strong defence, the right attitude and can compete is the key. We already saw it in the treatment of dressing room leaks to the media about a Marcelo Brozovic row with Romelu Lukaku. For decades, Inter have leaked more than a broken sieve, whereas Juve rarely let the damaging stories reach the headlines.
Conte may not be Helenio Herrera, but when he and Marotta leave, at least they will have a club that is shaped in the mould of their previous successes. It is far from a DNA that is found in a team like Ajax, but is a relatable code of ethics and practice that many of Inter’s past successes can relate to.