Archive for the ‘Inter Milan’ Category

New Inter Milan president Thohir, of Indonesia, greets supporters before the Italian Serie A soccer match against Sampdoria at San Siro stadium in Milan

Inter Milan president and majority owner Erick Thohir promised to roll up his sleeves. Juventus president Andrea Agnelli just wished he would pick up the phone. As the mooted exchange deal that would have sent Mirko Vucinic to Inter in return for Fredy Guarin slowly unravelled over the first two days of this week, Agnelli sought on multiple occasions to get his opposite number on the line so that they might have a frank conversation about what exactly was going on. But if the Bianconeri’s version of this story is to be believed, Thohir replied only in 160-character bursts.

“At 10.48am on Tuesday, Agnelli received from Thohir, whom he had tried to contact several times, a text message that gave definitive approval for the whole transfer,” said Juventus’s general manager Beppe Marotta in his statement to the press on Wednesday. “Then everything got cancelled and we don’t understand why.”

That final comment was rather disingenuous. Marotta knew very well why this deal collapsed, as did the rest of the country. On Monday morning, news of the potential transfer had leaked out into the public domain, sparking a furious reaction among Inter’s supporters.

What began as an online protest, with fans raging on message boards and social media, escalated quickly into something more serious as Ultras from San Siro’s Curva Nord issued a statement that condemned their club and its president, warning that: “The sale … of one of the most important player’s in Inter’s squad to another Italian club is the drop that will make the vase overflow.” By Tuesday afternoon, a group was preparing to march on the team’s offices in corso Vittoro Emmanuele.

Representatives of the two clubs had been engaged in face-to-face negotiations for the best part of two days by that point, switching between various hotels and offices in Milan. Although they had initially pushed for a straight swap, Juventus were reportedly willing to throw in a €1m cash sweetener, with a further €500,000 in potential bonuses. In the meantime, Vucinic had already cleared out his locker at their Vinovo training base and travelled north to undergo his medical in Milan on Monday night.

But the strength of the fans’ reaction was enough to give Thohir pause. As the head of a substantial media empire in Indonesia, he understands well the importance of PR. Pressing ahead with a move that would anger such a large part of his consumer base was difficult to justify. Somewhere around 6pm on Tuesday evening, he finally pulled the plug, cancelling the transfer shortly before those Ultras arrived outside Inter’s headquarters bearing banners with angry slogans.

The Curva Nord celebrated its “victory”, issuing a further statement thanking all those who had added their voices to its campaign, but for their club itself, this was another unedifying scene. Inter, after all, had been the ones who initiated the deal in the first place, enquiring about Vucinic’s availability as they sought to reinforce an attack that has scored just once in its last four games.

Although they had not initially planned to offer Guarin in exchange, the midfielder had been agitating for a move and appealed to Juve’s manager Antonio Conte. His €2.3m annual salary was not so far apart from what Inter would expect to pay Vucinic, meaning that they could make the switch without doing further damage to their already precarious finances.

That is not to say that the fans’ concerns were unjustified. At 27 years old, Guarin is three years younger than Vucinic and has a contract running through to 2016, whereas the Juventus player is scheduled to become a free agent in 18 months’ time. And while the Colombian has flattered to deceive on occasion, he has still been one of Inter’s better performers this season. Vucinic has made just four league starts for Juve, losing his place in the side following the arrivals of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente.

Inter, furthermore, have been burned by similar trades with their rivals before now. The Nerazzurri infamously sent Fabio Cannavaro to Juventus in 2004 in exchange for back-up goalkeeper Fabian Carini. As James Horncastle detailed in a piece for ESPN this week, it was not the first time that they had made a bad deal with the Old Lady.

But if the outcome looks like the right one for Inter, then the route they took to get there has damaged both the club and Thohir’s credibility as an owner. After all, it should not have required a fan revolt to alert Thohir to these concerns. If the club’s negotiators felt that they were getting a bad deal, then they should have dug their heels in much sooner. Conversely, if this was a transfer strategy they believed in, why relent so easily?

In truth, this story is all too familiar. Incoherent hiring strategies are a long-established fact of life for Inter, and they extend not only to the acquisition of new players but also the appointment of managers. In 2011, the club approached Fabio Capello, Marcelo Bielsa and Andre Villas-Boas about the possibility of replacing Leonardo before finally settling for Gian Piero Gasperini. Good luck discerning any common thread linking that particular foursome.

Although fully aware of Gasperini’s preference for a three-man attack, the club then failed to arrange its transfer campaign accordingly, retaining Wesley Sneijder—for whom there was no natural role in the new manager’s schemes—but selling Samuel Eto’o. Inter subsequently signed Diego Forlan, without noticing that he would be cup tied for that season’s European competition. They ignored Gasperini’s requests for an additional midfielder and, as if to rub salt into the wound, did not sign the one player he had specifically requested—Rodrigo Palacio—until a year later, after the manager had been fired.

Countless more examples could be drawn from Massimo Moratti’s time as owner, during which incredible sums of money were wasted on the likes of Ricardo Quaresma and Francesco Coco while players as good as Cannavaro, Andrea Pirlo and Leonardo Bonucci were allowed to slip away for much less than they were worth.

Things were supposed to go differently under Thohir, with his stated commitments to good business practice and to helping Inter get back to a self-sustaining financial model. In November he insisted that the club’s January transfer plans would be focused around signing more young players to complement those who would be promoted from the youth team. “We need to be confident,” he said. “I think a number of younger Italian players are worth giving a shot.”

Perhaps Inter’s disappointing performances have necessitated a shift in that mindset. A team that started the season brightly enough has now won just twice since November 9th. Though they remain in fifth place, the prospects of hanging on to a Europa League spot look slim unless something changes soon.

But the greatest concern for many Inter fans is simply that Thohir continues to entrust the day-to-day running of Inter’s transfer policies to the same people who have been guilty of so many mistakes in the past. The main driving force behind the Vucinic-Guarin trade was Marco Branca, the technical director who has held that job since 2003 (he had previously spent a further year with the club as a scout).

Working alongside him were sporting director Piero Ausilio and general manager Marco Fassone, whose overlapping roles do not always allow for a clear line of command. Until recently, it was always Moratti who took ultimate responsibility, applying his own personal judgement to every deal that got done.

Thohir, though, does not seem inclined to take such a hands-on role. Although he considers himself a fan, he is also quick to acknowledge that he lacks technical expertise. When it comes to transfer business, he would prefer to stand aside and let the football people do their job, working within the financial parameters that are set for them.

But while a hands-off approach makes good business sense, it only works if you have the right people in place. Although Branca helped to oversee a period of great success for Inter in the wake of Calciopoli, his successes are coloured by both the fact that Inter’s domestic rivals were so weak at the time.

Those successes were achieved, furthermore, without any pretence of trying to balance the books. In 2010, the year that Inter won the treble, they posted losses of €69m. In each of the two previous years, that figure had stood closer to €150m. Given that Thohir has no intention of supporting such losses going forwards, he must also ask himself whether Branca is up to the task of rejuvenating this squad on a far more modest budget.

When Thohir completed his takeover of Inter last October, he made a point of maintaining continuity with the old regime, even pleading with Moratti to stay on as a full-time president. The latter eventually settled for an honorary role (and Thohir did call him for advice this week before making his final decision on the Vucinic-Guarin swap), but with his son serving as vice-president and many directors remaining in place, much has stayed the same.

At this stage, it is tempting to wonder whether it might be too much. Inter’s performances have been in decline ever since Jose Mourinho stepped aside in the summer of 2010. To reverse that trend will require strong leadership. It might also require a break from the past that Thohir seems reluctant to make.

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Massimo Moratti could think of no better place to be. As a second-generation oil tycoon, the 68-year-old could afford to spend his weekends travelling the world or relaxing at its most luxurious resorts. But none of it would make him nearly so happy as what he found on Sunday at modest little Mapei Stadium in the north-east corner of Reggio Emilia; two goals, a patch of grass and his football team.

In the most literal sense, Inter will not be Moratti’s team for very much longer. On Wednesday he reached agreement to sell a majority share in the club to a consortium led by the Indonesian businessman Erik Thohir. The deal has not yet formally been signed off, but should go through by the end of next month.

Asked by reporters if he might stay on as president, Moratti replied at first: “I don’t’ know,” and then: “I don’t think so.” He is expected to retain a 30% stake in the club, and the new owners would be open to him continuing in that role in the short-term at least. But for Moratti, that thought for now is too painful—the idea that he would just be running somebody else’s business too challenging for him to consider.

Because the truth is that Inter will always be his team—not in the proprietary sense, perhaps, but in the same way that any supporter feels bonded to their club. Moratti was always a fan first, one who grew up with greater access than most as his father Angelo owned Inter from 1955 to 1968, but one whose passion could be just as raw as those Ultras who occupied the Curva Nord at San Siro.

As a boy he attended every game that he could, which turned out to be quite a few. He was just 19 when he saw Inter lift the European Cup for the first time, and he watched them do it again one year later. In football, as in life, he had been spoiled—his formative years as a fan having coincided with Helenio Herrera’s time as manager of what came to be known as ‘il Grande Inter’: ‘the Great Inter’.

After Angelo Moratti sold the club in 1968, Massimo dedicated himself to the family’s other business concerns, eventually taking over as CEO of their energy company, Saras, when his father passed away in 1981. His support for Inter, though, never waned. He watched as the team’s fortunes dipped under new presidents Ivanoe Fraizzoli and Ernesto Pellegrini. Although some trophies were won under their stewardship, they were nothing compared to the triumphs of the first Moratti era.

By 1995, Pellegrini no longer felt able to keep up with the rising costs of team ownership. Moratti stepped in, buying the club outright and launching himself into the task of restoring it to its former glory. He hired the Inter players he had looked up to as a youth, players like Giacinto Facchetti to Sandro Mazzola, to be his new directors.

Together they sat and viewed videotapes of foreign stars in the grand halls of the Palazzo Serbelloni, an 18th century Neo-classical palace where the Moratti family had hosted rich oil traders and Sheikhs in the past. The new Inter owner was living any fan’s dream, working with his footballing heroes to draw up blueprints for the construction of his very own club.

Paul Ince and Roberto Carlos were the first stars to arrive, but others soon followed, from Youri Djorkaeff and Ivan Zamorano through to Ronaldo and Roberto Baggio. Moratti poured his own personal funds into the club at a startling rate, and yet it seemed that money could not buy him success. Prior to the Calciopoli scandal of 2006 his Inter teams had won a single Uefa Cup, and not a lot else besides.

Everything changed thereafter, with Inter winning four consecutive Serie A titles, in addition to having the 2005-06 Scudetto awarded to them retrospectively. Inter’s dominant spell would culminate in the treble won under José Mourinho in 2009-10. It was the first time in the history of Italian football that any team had won Serie A, the Coppa Italia and the European Cup all in the same year.

It is that achievement, more than anything, which has made it possible for Moratti to walk away from the club that he loves. From a financial standpoint, one might argue that he had little choice; Saras is no longer in the rude financial health as it once was having posting a net loss of €90.1m for the last financial year, while Inter are themselves expected to record losses of around €70m on their next annual accounts.

Even so, it is hard to imagine Moratti giving in to harsh financial reality if he did not feel he had fulfilled his duties to the club. This is a man, after all, who has already invested €1.2bn of his own money in Inter over the course of his 18 years in charge.

And while Moratti has enjoyed the personal glory that comes with being the club’s owner, there is no question that he feels a certain obligation towards Inter as well. Part of that comes down to the desire to honour his father’s relationship with this team. Reflecting on the imminent sale, Moratti described Inter as “…a son who needs to start learning how to walk on his own.”

More than that, though, he has felt a duty to his fellow fans, recognising that he, unlike most of them, is in a position to help the team that they all love in a very tangible way. “It took me five minutes to understand that football, and Inter, are his life,” said Jose Mourinho last week, reflecting on his first meeting with Moratti. “He never speaks about them as ‘his’ Inter; to his mind, the team always belongs to the fans.”

That sentiment has played heavily into the owner’s negotiations with Thohir. For a long time Moratti avoided selling the club outright, choosing instead to seek out a minority investor who might help him to shore up the club’s finances. But even once he had accepted the need to step aside, he resolved to do so only if he could find somebody else that could be trusted to place Inter’s best interests above their own.

On the face of things, at least, it appears that he has found what he was looking for in Thohir. The Indonesian businessman, whose broad investment portfolio is focused predominantly around the areas of sport and media, might not be a lifelong fan like his predecessor, but he has been keen from the outset to keep Moratti involved, and will reportedly allow him to appoint three of the seven directors who make up the club’s new board.

Thohir already owns a majority stake in Major League Soccer’s DC United, as well as a minority holding in the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, but seemingly has no interest in running any of his business interests in an autocratic manner. “It’s hard to find a business which we own 100%,” he told Forbes last year. “That’s my father’s belief, when you run a business, you have to find partners to check and balance.”

Thohir is understood to favour a hands-off approach, leaving the running of Inter to people who better understand its day-to-day needs. In the immediate term, many of the club’s existing directors will be retained, albeit with Thomas W Shreve—an American lawyer who has worked with Thohir’s consortium partner Rosan Roeslani for many years—overseeing the whole operation.

The consortium’s financial commitment to Inter is understood to be significant. Over the next two years they will spend nearly €200m to eliminate the majority of Inter’s debts; Moratti himself will receive just €50m from the sale, although any outstanding club debts pertaining to him will also be transferred to the new ownership.

Fans ought not to expect aggressive spending from the incoming ownership group, whose ambitions are to help the club get back to a self-sustaining model. They will hope to achieve this, in part, by growing the international brand. In order to achieve either goal, a swift return to the Champions League is required. This is the first season in 14 years that Inter have been excluded from European competition.

Moratti, for now at least, is expected to step aside, nominating his son, Angelomario, as one of his directors and otherwise giving advice to the consortium only when it is sought.

He will, however, maintain a close interest. Gazzetta dello Sport reported last week that the takeover deal includes several clauses obliging the new owners to run Inter according to certain guidelines laid out by Moratti during their first three years in charge. If these are breached, then the club will automatically be restored to its former owner.

As powerful a threat as that might be, it is not the outcome that Moratti wants. The owner spoke to his players at training on Saturday, reminding them that, as always, Inter was the most important thing. Even if he were no longer president, he said, he would always be there for them and the club.

Perhaps he might even serve them better, in a new, relaxed, mode. Before Sunday, Moratti had not been to an away game since March 2012; he certainly brought them luck on his return, watching them demolish Sassuolo 7-0.

His love for this club shone through in his reaction to each goal, but especially the brace scored by Diego Milito – returning to the field and the scoresheet 220 days after tearing his cruciate ligament during a Europa League game against Cluj. In the words of Gazzetta, Moratti celebrated, “as though a member of his family had just scored”.

That is, of course, how Moratti views Inter, as a part of his extended household. He may be stepping down from leadership duties, but families are one thing you can never truly quit.

UC Sampdoria v Juventus - Serie A

Inter signed half a footballer last Tuesday. That is not a comment on the player in question, but simply an honest representation of the facts. Mauro Icardi was acquired from Sampdoria under a co-ownership agreement, meaning that each club now holds 50% of his rights.

To those unfamiliar with Italian transfer dealings, the concept might seem a little baffling. How can two teams share a footballer? Icardi cannot exactly play for Inter and Sampdoria at the same time.

In practice, Italian co-ownership deals operate in much the same way as a loan. The buying team (Inter, in this instance) will acquire the player for one season, using him as they see fit and paying his wages for the duration. At the end of the year, the agreement must either be extended for another 12 months or resolved with one team buying out the other’s share.

If an agreement cannot be reached between the teams, the deal will be resolved via silent auction in a process known as ‘going to the envelopes’ (‘andare alle buste’). Each team submits a written bid for the remaining half of the player and whoever comes in highest, wins. The losing team is obliged to accept their rivals’ offer.

(In a rather quaint twist, these silent auctions are all resolved over the course of two days at the end of each June in a single Milan hotel. Team executives hand their bids over to representatives of the Italian Football Federation, who act as independent arbiters.)

This process has led to some highly unlikely outcomes. Most famous is the story of Paolo Rossi, who moved from Juventus to Lanerossi Vicenza on a co-ownership deal back in 1976. The striker scored 45 goals over the next two years, helping his new team to promotion from Serie B, and then a remarkable second-place finish in Serie A.

Unable to resolve their co-ownership, the two clubs went to the envelopes. Vicenza’s owner, Giuseppe Farina, became so anxious that he wound up going round the dressing room asking his players how much they thought he should pay. The suggested figures averaged out to about 1bn Italian lira (equivalent to $1.15m at the time), but on the eve of the auction, Farina received an anonymous phone call, advising him that Juventus would bid more than twice that amount.

Unwilling to lose such a valuable player, Farina duly scribbled down an offer of 2.6bn lira. Given that the two teams were only supposed to be bidding for half of the player’s rights, he was effectively suggesting that Rossi’s true value was 5.2bn lira. Or to put it another way: nearly three times the then world transfer record.

Farina was in for a shock. His mystery caller had been lying, and Juventus bid just 875m lira. Vicenza retained Rossi, but at a preposterous cost. The Italian Football Federation’s president Franco Carrara resigned in protest at such financial irresponsibility.

It is one thing to make a miscalculation, though, and quite another to fill your bid out incorrectly. That is precisely what happened to Bologna two years ago, when they lost their goalkeeper, Emiliano Viviano, over an administrative error.

To submit a bid in these silent auctions, team officials fill out a standard-issue form supplied by the Italian Football Federation. There is a box in which they must write down their bid, and another in which to state their overall valuation of the player—i.e. the bid figure multiplied by two.

Bologna’s then general manager, Stefano Pedrelli, mistakenly wrote his bid for Viviano down in the latter section. Inverting the process, he then halved that number as he went backwards through the form, bidding €2.35m when he had intended to offer €4.7m. Viviano’s co-owners, Inter, won the player for €4.1m instead.

Inter can rest easy knowing that there will be no auction for Icardi next year. Written into their deal with Sampdoria is a clause obliging the Nerazzurri to buy the remaining 50% of the player for a pre-determined fee at the end of this season. Inter will pay approximately €6m for the first half of Icardi, and a similar sum to complete their purchase in 12 months’ time.

Why would Inter opt for such a peculiar structure to a deal if they know that they are ultimately going to buy the player anyway? The Italian journalist Gianluca Di Marzio, a man well-informed on all things transfer-related, cited ambiguous “bureaucratic motives”.

He may have been referring to rules which limit how far a team can spread out its payments. Inter are reported to be splitting that initial €6m into three separate instalments, and will presumably take a similar approach with the remainder next year. Inter recorded losses of more than €70m on their most recent accounts and are finally beginning to recognise the need to monitor their cash flow.

The Nerazzurri already used a similar model to acquire Samir Handanovic in two stages from Udinese. They are not the only ones to see the benefits to such an arrangement; Juventus signed both Mauricio Isla and Kwadwo Asamoah on co-ownership last year. Both players will be back next season, the Bianconeri buying the rest of Asamoah this summer, while extending their deal for Isla by another 12 months.

Still more common, however, are those co-ownership arrangements in which a young player moves from a big team to a smaller one in order to gain experience. Many coaches and players prefer these arrangements over loans, because they give everybody a stake in the player’s development.

A team taking a player on loan has no incentive to help him improve unless it will help them to win right away. With a player bought on co-ownership, the scenario is different. Coaches and managers know that there is a chance the player could stay. Even if he does not, it is still in their interests to help him get better so they can charge a higher price when they eventually come to sell.

Sebastian Giovinco’s recent history provides a compelling recent example. Although the forward initially joined Parma on loan from Juventus in 2010, there was an option written into that deal allowing the Crociati to take co-ownership for €3m. They duly exercised that right at the end of the campaign, and he went on to score 15 league goals in 2011-12.

Parma sold their half back to Juventus last summer for €11m, netting a handsome profit. In return the Bianconeri had effectively bought two years of development for Giovinco as a full-time starter, an opportunity that he would never have got in Turin. Some fans might question now whether it was really worth their while, but such skepticism is coloured by hindsight.

On top of all those considerations listed so far, there is the straightforward concept of spreading risk. If a €10m player bought on co-ownership for €5m fails to live up to expectations, then the buying team can offload their share without doing irreparable damage to their finances. If the player is a success, then paying an inflated price for the remaining 50% will at least feel like less of a gamble.

Even for those who are familiar with the structure of such deals, the endless cycle of co-ownership trading can get a little dizzying. The experience of following a summer transfer window in Italy was best summed up by the character Commander Borlotti, president of the fictional club Longobarda, in the cult-classic mid-80s Italian comedy L’allenatore nel Pallone (The Manager in the football).

“I’ve managed to land three quarters of Gentile and seven-eighths of Collovati, plus half of Mike Bongiorno,” exclaims Borlotti in one characteristically frenetic outburst. “In conclusion, we’ve obtained co-ownership of Maradona in exchange for Falchetti and Mengoni.”

In the real world, these deals are almost never as complicated as they appear. In Italy, co-ownership can only ever mean holding a 50-50 share, so there are no eighths of players being passed from one club to another. Instead there is a straightforward mechanism which allows two teams to share in an individual’s rise or fall. Just like any other kind of transfer, some do it better than others.

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-AS ROMA-NAPOLI

No sooner had the football ended, than the band began to play. ‘Il valzer delle panchine’ – ‘the waltz of the benches’ – is one of the more colourful idioms used by Italians to describe the string of managerial sackings and appointments that takes place in the country every summer.

That phrase might even reflect a little of the national mindset. Where English managers are left at the mercy of a mechanical ‘merry-go-round’, their Italian counterparts are thought to hold some kind of control. They might not get to call the tunes, but they can at least determine where their footsteps take them.

One manager, indeed, has already shown off some bold moves this summer. Walter Mazzarri could have led Napoli back into the Champions League next season after steering them to a second-place finish in Serie A. Instead he two-stepped away with Inter, a team which finished ninth this year after losing a dismal 16 games.

Mazzarri had been mulling this switch over for more than 12 months, ever since discovering last spring that the Inter owner, Massimo Moratti, was a keen admirer of his work. The newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport reported that the manager had even phoned up one unnamed journalist with connections at Inter in the hopes of gleaning a little insight into the owner’s plans for the club.

The Nerazzurri had sacked Claudio Ranieri in March of 2012, and were expected to seek out a full-time replacement in the summer. Instead Moratti gave the job to his former youth team coach Andrea Stramaccioni, who had impressed during a brief stint as caretaker manager. Mazzarri, after weeks of stalling, confirmed his intention to stay with Napoli just two days after Stramaccioni’s deal was signed.

Quite why the Inter job appealed so strongly is a subject that Mazzarri has not yet discussed. The manager has declined to speak about his new club in advance of his introductory press conference, which should take place sometime in the next few days. But it has not escaped the public’s attention that Napoli finished above Inter in each of the last two seasons.
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FBL-ITA-SERIEA-SIENA-INTER

Yeah, there’s not much sugar-coating a 16-6-16 record, 54 points, and a 9th place table finish for a team that won the treble three years ago. So the lesson here is what, never appointment younger coaches, never hire internally, and never hire people with law degrees.

Oh and be sure to watch out for the Internet reminding you that Rafa Benitez is looking for another job. Because the last time he was at Inter, woah doctor!

nsfw  image via @Matthew_Ward_92

nsfw image via @Matthew_Ward_92

Callum McManaman has some company. Five minutes into extra time, Inter Milan midfielder Esteban Cambiasso was shown red for an absolutely horrendous tackle on Sebastian Giovinco. While the vitriol on twitter runs thick and fast, Cambiasso went to the Juventus locker room and apologized to Giovinco.

It was the first red card for the 32-year-old Argentinean after 277 games with Inter. Expect to hear ‘he’s not that type of player’ 5,673 times in the coming days. Juve won 2-1.
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Inter Milan v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League

April 20th, 2010

Mario Balotelli is enjoying an excellent run of form for both club and country. During a press conference ahead of Italy’s World Cup qualifier with Malta, Balotelli covered a myriad of topics, including racism, his perceived arrogance and the past.

There was the standard Super Mario fare: “I’ve never had a big head. I do not consider myself to be the best in the world, nor the worst. I am me and that is enough.”

More interestingly, was when he was asked about his biggest regret. Read the rest of this entry »