“He is one who sees the first ball, he has geometry. When he is good, the team benefits.” So said Claudio Ranieri recently about his central midfielder Thiago Motta. In Serie A this season, when Inter have had Motta on the pitch, they have won 90 per cent of games, have improved their goal difference at an average rate of +1.5 goals per game and have conceded just three times in his presence. Without Motta on the pitch, Inter have won just 22 per cent of League matches this season, have worsened their goal difference by an average of -0.6 goals per game and have conceded 17 goals.
As the Italian media suggested in late December, Inter win when Motta is playing and as Ranieri was keen to agree, he brings something to the team. In fact, widening the focus, Motta’s record in Serie A during three seasons with Inter stands at 41 wins, seven draws and as many defeats from 55 played. The Nerazzurri’s win percentage from the start of 2009-10 to now with Motta playing is 75 per cent, without him it is a staggering 43 per cent.
Whilst perhaps thought of for his shielding work in front of both Inter and Italy’s defences, it is interesting to note that Motta’s true contribution is in his offensive play for the team. Indeed, where there are four other players in the squad to average more tackles per game this season and 10 who have made more interceptions every 90 minutes, surprisingly no-one comes close to matching the number of passes Motta averages each game, a number he matches with an almost squad-high pass-completion rate. Inter’s style of play runs through the Brazilian-born Italian international and the statistics back it up.
It explains why, even as Inter are reportedly contemplating selling the player to Paris Saint-Germain, his Coach has repeatedly spoken of the desire to keep him with the club. Indeed, PSG’s first offer of €8m was reportedly turned down after Massimo Moratti discussed the issue with Ranieri.
Yet, the anticipation in both France and Italy is that the Ligue 1 leaders will return with a higher bid, closer to the €10m mark, whilst there are also hints of clauses in the transfer meaning that Inter could receive a further €3-5m on top of that. Whilst Ranieri may have one idea, the Nerazzurri’s attitude towards Motta suggests another. It is why the player’s agent Alessandro Canovi has been very clear this week – the Coppa Italia quarter-final defeat to Napoli could be the No 8’s last for the club.
Indeed significantly, PSG’s reported offer of a three-year contract and €2.5m annual net salary sits in sharp contrast to Inter’s non-existent offer of a deal to the player. As Canovi reflected this week, it is not the money – PSG offering less than his current deal – or even the length of the contract that has turned the player’s head.
“I believe Inter have made a mistake, not so much for not renewing his contract, but for the lack of consideration for the player, despite him being one of the most important for the team.”
Soon after his return from injury in December, Motta and Canovi both admitted to the Press of the footballer’s desire to stay at the club, but that in light of no approach on a new contract, they had already by that stage begun to anticipate a summer 2012 transfer. Motta’s current deal expires a year after that, the summer would be the club’s opportunity to cash in on him with enough time to find a replacement.
However, PSG’s interest has seemingly accelerated the process. Should the reports accurately reflect the amount the club could receive for their player, it would actually represent a slight profit on the fee the Milanese originally paid Genoa two-and-a-half years ago. Combined with the fact that Motta breaks the 30-year barrier in late summer and the deal begins to make financial sense.
Even so, as the statistics and Ranieri’s words on the matter clearly show, there is a value beyond the financial that Motta represents for Inter. Talk of younger, more overtly attacking and dynamic footballers targeted as his replacement may help to convince the Inter faithful that this is a sensible transfer. Indeed, one such name the club are reportedly tracking is Real Madrid’s ailing but equally promising Nuri Sahin.
As Il Giornale put it this week, though: “Inter need a player who can dictate the tempo in midfield, who can win, turn and run with the ball, provide tactical and technical support to any teammate in need. In the squad there is no-one else who can do the same. Selling Thiago now can only be a great deal for commercial business, not a great deal for the team.”