The past week saw the first managerial upheavals of the season, with both Hamburg and Internazionale letting go of their respective managers. Both the clubs have had miserable starts to the new season, with Hamburg accruing 1 point from a total of 6 matches, while Inter have the same total, albeit having played 3 matches less. Both the dismissals were not surprising in the least, with Inter owner Massimo Moratti being one of the most eccentric owners in world football ( Mauricio Zamparini takes the cake though ), and Hamburg have not exactly been the embodiment of managerial stability in the last few years.
A closer look at Michael Oenning’s reign tells the real story. Of the 14 matches that he was head coach for, the team won 1 match which was the first one he took charge of, following which his record read 6 draws and 7 losses. All the matches the club played under Oenning, there was no particular direction to the way the team was playing its football, with the team always setup in a traditional 4-4-2, clearly giving the impression that tactical ingenuity was not the coach’s forte. However, the visible lack of belief in the players, also indicated a lack of effective communication between the squad and the players.
His previous managerial experience was limited to spearheading Nurnberg’s promotion to the Bundesliga in the 2008-09 season after taking over halfway through the season. The following season in the Bundesliga saw the club surviving by the skin of their teeth, needing the playoffs to save themselves. Oenning was sacked just before the winter break, with the current coach Dieter Hecking appointed as his successor. He guided Nurnberg to safety and a lofty 6th position in the next season. All this is indicative of the lack of experience of Oenning, and that his appointment was one that was not well thought out.
However, given all that, this season was supposed to be a fresh start for the club, with a new sporting director and the first pre – season for the new coach eager to prove himself. What Oenning did not know was that his new Director of Sports, Frank Arnesen would stick to a policy of depleting the youth team of Chelsea, with no less than 5 players recruited from Arnesen’s previous club. The arrival of Michael Mancienne, Gokhan Tore, Jacopo Sala, Slobodan Rajkovic and Jeffrey Bruma from Chelsea, was seen as a promising step, both for the players involved, and for a club that was looking towards youth for its new direction.
In addition, the Norwegian midfielder Per Ciljan Skjelbred was brought in from Rosenborg, with his play-making skills thought to be ideal for a team looking to play with youthful exuberance and outrun its opponents. With the season just 6 games old, and the coach already fired, one wonders how much of a chance the young players are going to get once the next coach comes in. So far though, with the exception of Sala, all the others have got atleast a game, with Rajkovic and Tore looking good. However, the one player who has played all games so far for Hamburg this season, and has been fairly unimpressive is Michael Mancienne. He is yet to adapt to the fast paced, and yet less physical Bundesliga, with some of his challenges quite over the top. It remains to be seen whether his decision to leave England and go abroad will pay dividends, as currently it seems as though Chelsea made the right decision to let him go.
Added to all these arrivals, the departures of a big chunk of the existing squad like Ze Roberto, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Joris Mathijsen , Guy Demel, Eljero Elia, and Jonathan Pitroipa has added to the instability within the team. The presence of experienced players would have ensured that the team underwent a smooth transition to a new setup, and would have helped the youngsters integrate better with the team. In the absence of leaders in the dressing room, the coach would have been an ideal person to guide the young players; however Oenning’s personality is more that of someone who likes to remain in the background, which has added to the confusion and lack of clarity within the team. The dismal start to the season for Hamburg is something that the club will look to address in the coming weeks. It can clearly be seen that Michael Oenning is still learning the intricacies of management, and this should be but a minor (and important) detour in his quest to becoming a successful manager.
From the ill-fated moment in which he was announced as the new manager of Internazionale, Gian Piero Gasperini must have been fearing the moment when Moratti decides he is not good enough to carry on as the manager of his club. And the fact that that moment came just 87 days and 5 competitive games into his reign, is what is surprising. This step would have come much earlier, given that no one really understood the rationale behind hurriedly appointing Gasperini as the manager.
The summer gone was one filled with multiple rumors of the club’s two most important assets, namely Samuel Eto’o and Wesley Sneijder leaving the club, with the club willing to sell them to ease their financial burden. Surely the news of two of his best players leaving would not have been the best way the new manager would have wanted to be welcomed to the club. The Chinese Super Coppa was the first time we got to see the 3-4-3 that Gasperini is well known for, and for the first 20 minutes, it seemed that the gamble to pick him as the next manager was a good one, with good link up play between Sneijder, Eto’o and the new signing, Ricky Alvarez. However, what followed after was a switch in tactics, changing the shape back to a 4 man defence, causing confusion all over the field, leading to a spineless second half performance, which saw Inter squander their halftime lead to eventually lose 2-1.
The close of the transfer window, and the departure of Eto’o to the dusty Russian province of Dagestan to play for Anzhi Makhachkala, was what Gasperini would have been dreading all along. The player suited most perfectly to his 3-4-3 had been sold, with the arrivals of Diego Forlan and Mauro Zarate, both of whom like to play through the middle, leaving a gaping hole on the left side of the Inter Milan attack. Zarate, also capable of playing on the flanks is not very well known for his tracking back, and is also known to be selfish with his passing. Losing Eto’o was the first major blow that Gasperini suffered.
As had been indicated by Gasperini many times, the loss of Sneijder would not have been as detrimental to the team as was Eto’o’s. This was mistake no. 2 in his reign. Losing one of your stars is bad enough, but isolating and antagonizing your other remaining star was the worst possible way to try and cultivate a new brand of football in a team full of experienced players and inflated egos. So far, Sneijder has proven to be highly ineffective and lost in the 3-4-3 formation, with his role in the formation not clearly known as the two players in the centre midfield positions in this formation are supposed to extend stability and protect the team from counter attacks, with the wing backs designated to attack predominantly.
When played on the wing against Palermo, he could not exert any influence, and hardly got a touch on the ball, but when he was moved into an interior position, it allowed him the freedom to roam around the pitch, linking up well with the strikers, and feeding the wing backs the ball with space to run onto.
For the 3-4-3 to work, what is necessary is that the team possesses quick, agile center backs with the ability to bring the ball out of defense and help initiate attacks. The only such options available for Inter are Andrea Ranocchia, who is inconsistent and suffers from lack of concentration in crucial moments, and Cristian Chivu, who of late has played predominantly at left back, and also has been slightly careless in possession. Walter Samuel and Lucio are centre backs who, with age have lost their pace, and now rely on guile and position to get the better of their opponents, and are ideally not suited to this kind of an open formation.
The only person who looks to be a perfect fit with this system is Yuto Nagatomo, the dynamic pocket sized wing back and his natural energetic game ideally suited to the needs of this Inter team. Javier Zanetti, is one of the best full backs in the world, but as Wing back, he is asked to do too much at the age of 38. Jonathan, having played in the other full back position, has not been impressive and is yet to justify his purchase. The loss of Maicon to injury has been debilitating, and is one more reason why Gasperini could not implement his patented formation the way he would have liked.
The final nail in his coffin was the embarrassing loss to Serie A newcomers Novara, helping them win their first Serie A match in 56 years. Although Gasperini came to the club with a reputation of getting his teams to play free flowing, easy on the eye football. His failure to impose his philosophy effectively was ultimately the cause of his dismissal. What didn’t help his cause was the rather lackluster performance of the club’s directors in recruiting players of the kind the manager wanted, and giving him players to work with who cannot buy into his philosophy was akin to fitting square pegs in round holes. His constant change of tactics, also caused havoc with the team setup and organization, epitomized by the rather amusing and yet sad incident when Cambiasso was caught on camera in the Novara match, telling Ranocchia, “I’m telling you, we’re playing four at the back“, when they were not.
Both Oenning and Gasperini, in hindsight were probably not the right appointments for their respective clubs, as both lack the powerful persona necessary to take bold and challenging steps, if and when required to take their teams to victory. Both these jobs came a bit too early in their managerial careers for them, with their achievements so far at best being modest. This also highlights the importance of the presence of a good administrative team, which looks at the club’s long term picture, and does not make decisions impulsively.
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