The last few months have been ones of profound transformation for Inter. The Milan team have bounced back from two disappointing seasons, as after the famous treble in 2010 and the departure of Jose Mourinho, there was a calamitous fall. The club had to scale down their goals, with less spending on players and more focus on healthy finances. But after a failed experiment with young coach Andrea Stramaccioni, president Massimo Moratti opted to relaunch his project with a boss used to working without big budgets: Walter Mazzarri.
Mazzarri ended the 2012/13 season by steering Napoli to second place in Serie A. For months it was known that he would change clubs, even if he did not admit it openly. His destination initially seemed to be Roma, but a phone call from Moratti was enough to change the Tuscan coach’s mind; it must also have been a consideration on Mazzarri’s part that improving Inter’s results from last season would not be difficult, even if there is still genuine prestige in being the Nerazzurri manager.
Inter’s pre-season did not run smoothly with the team suffering heavy defeats against Chelsea, Valencia and Real Madrid. Worrying signs for some, but those familiar with Mazzarri’s working methods knew that the coach favours a tough physical programme which can make it hard going for his players initially; the former Napoli manager feels this is a small price to pay for high levels of fitness throughout the season, although historically Mazzarri’s sides tend to suffer a slight physical decline between December and January.
Mazzarri proceeded to preside over a fine start to the season for Inter. In the first five games, Inter clocked up four wins and a draw, the latter coming against Juventus (1-1). A 7-0 romp against Sassuolo particularly stood out, however following a 2-1 win against Fiorentina, Mazzarri’s men started to struggle somewhat, picking up just six points from their next five games, all against modest opposition, with the exception of Roma.
The former Napoli coach, as is his custom, attributed the reasons for a slump to genuine bad luck or a goalkeeper’s standout performance. However, Mazzarri has had issues with muddled tactics and ineffective substitutions, which can arrive too late to make a difference. A particular gripe for Inter fans came against Atalanta, a side Mazzarri has struggled against in the past. The coach fielded three central defenders, while Atalanta selected by a single striker, meaning two would have been adequate; the game ended 1-1.
Meanwhile, Inter have changed ownership, with Erik Thohir becoming the majority shareholder of the club, even if the official confirmation is only set to come next Friday. The switch in ownership has cast some doubt on the permanence of Mazzarri at Inter. He has a contract until 2015, but Thohir has been speculated as being keen to change coach for next season; he is thought to want a foreign coach who can add a touch of the international to the team. Amongst the considerations is a need to sell 'Inter' the product, with names floating around including Swansea manager Michael Laudrup and Ajax coach Frank de Boer. However, Mazzarri still has plenty of time to convince Thohir he is the right man for the Inter bench.
More immediate changes beckon for the playing staff, with Thohir casting his eye to the transfer market. The Indonesian businessman has promised to enthuse the side with young players, denying Andrea Pirlo and Emanuele Giaccherini are likely arrivals. Inter may bring striker Marko Livaja back from Atalanta on loan, while Lyon midfielder Clement Grenier is admired. Whatever happens in January though, the Thohir revolution has changed the landscape at Inter, and that is something Mazzarri will have to adapt to.