Less than two years after arriving in Milan, Jose Mourinho proved that his actions are even louder than his words. By winning the Champions league title, his Inter side finished the last part of the treble and shook off the underachiever tag permanently. However as with most good things, he decided to part ways with the club and start a new adventure at Real Madrid. Rafael Benitez, who had been relieved of his duties at Liverpool, was hired to fill in really big shoes.
Questions Marks on caliber
Benitez had won two titles in Spain, but in England he had more excuses than successes. In six years he failed to deliver what the average Liverpool fan craved the most i.e. the Premiership title. In retrospect, he had overdrawn heavily on the credit he got for that night at Istanbul – his Liverpool side, after having been outplayed for 114 minutes, somehow managed to pull the rug from under a much superior Milan side. He left the squad in tatters from which they are still struggling to emerge.
Not an enviable position to be in
At Inter, Benitez was expected to fill in the shoes of the most successful manager in a generation. Jose Mourinho (very rightly) commanded almost a blind devotion from his players. One of the most iconic images from last season was to see Marco Materazzi crying on Jose Mourinho’s shoulders after the Champions league triumph. Benitez was expected to take over a squad which had won everything and to maintain the same level of desire and commitment necessary for winning titles.
In short if he managed to win, it would have been a triumph of Mourinho’s men. If he had lost, he would have made losers out of champions. In short it was a no-win situation for the Spaniard; the best outcome could have been a draw.
Not a great start
Rafael Benitez won the first of the 6 tournaments Inter would be competing in, by defeating the Romans in Italian Supercup. However, Diego Forlan-led Atletico Madrid toyed with the Inter defense which had kept the likes of Barcelona at bay just 4 months ago. Inter were comprehensively beaten in European supercup. The domestic campaign started on a similar note with Inter struggling game after game to impose themselves. Only Samuel Eto’o’ form saved them the blushes many a times and proved to be their get-out-of-jail card.
Injury glut at Inter
The cause was not helped by the fact that many players suffered niggling injuries. After a long and grueling club season, the main players were the protagonists for their national team sides at the World Cup too. This meant that the team started the new season without any rest. Signs of fatigue were visible in key players such as Sneijder, Maicon and Milito.
Injuries simply followed fatigue. After less than 4 months of the new season, the team has suffered as many as 40 injuries to first team players, a number more than what an average league team’s squad suffers in a whole season. While fatigue can be blamed for some injuries, many more were suffered by players such as Stankovic, Pandev etc. who played low or negligible part in the World Cup.
After a few unconvincing performances, Roma exposed the weakness in the Inter defense. A weakness which has been exploited by every team since then. First to go was the unbeaten record at home. Under Mourinho Inter had not been beaten in a home league game for over two years. It took exactly 12 games for the record to be lost, as a resurgent Rossoneri side made light work of Inter. Even before Milan had heaped humiliation on the champions, Gareth Bale made the famed defense look like that of a serie-c outfit. Relegation battlers Lecce and Brescia also dominated Inter to snatch a point.
Once the floodgates were opened, there was no looking back. Little Chievo thrashed the champions at home, followed by Lazio doing a demolition job at Stadio Olimpico. The latest in the series of humiliating results is a 3-0 thrashing by Werder Bremen.
So far this season, Inter has already lost 4 times in Serie-A (same as whole of last season), twice in Europe (again same as last season). In Europe, they have conceded 11 goals in 6 games, more than what they had conceded in their ENTIRE European campaign last season.
Inter’s statistics for the last 10 games in all competition reads 3 wins, 2 draws and 5 losses. This is a form shown by a relegation battler rather than a league challenger. Moratti is showing some uncharacteristic patience with his worst manager. He himself admitted that a younger version of him would have fired Benitez quite a while back. After the loss against Bremen, he blasted the manager and the team in no uncertain terms, indicating that he also is exasperated with the results.
Beyond the above news, there are rumors flying everywhere. Among many rumors are those of Fabio Capello being sounded out and Benitez being given the Club World cup to save his job. The murmurs from the players also indicate unhappiness all around. So a deserved sacking might not be far off. Nobody would have thought that an Inter fan would be desperately praying for their coach to be sacked. Such are the turn of events.
[To be continued..]
– Arvind Balasubramanian