They say after a great party comes a great hangover. For Interisti worldwide, last season marked the end of the hangover from the unprecedented 2010 treble. Two seasons of underinvestment in the squad and some baffling transfer market decisions came to haunt the side. The managerial merry-go-round synonymous with Inter during the late 90s returned, and the club were all set to becoming the laughing stock of the league again.
2011-12 was a seminal year in many ways. It clearly showed that most of the class of 2010 were past it and needed to be escorted out of the exit door. The team badly needed fresh blood in every position – defense, midfield and attack. The senatori were being paid world class salaries, even though they were no longer capable of producing world class performances. Massimo Moratti’s main oil refining business was hurting which meant he no longer was capable of pouring money into the club like in the past. Add to that the impending FFP regulations and the club had to reduce its losses or risk being thrown out of European championships. The club lost over 50m Euros in 2011-12 and with no Champions league this season revenues will fall further – cost reduction was the name of the game. Though a group of Chinese investors did buy a stake in the company, their investment was earmarked towards building a new stadium. In the short term, a major overhaul was required.
At a high level, Branca and co. had two clear objectives – reduce the wage bill and freshen up the squad. The defense consisted of too many players over 30 and needed new arrivals. The midfield badly needed more mobile central midfielders, and new attacking midfielders, while the strike force needed a total overhaul. Attacking players who could operate wide would also be most useful to the Nerazzurri.
In spite of tight financial conditions, this mercato has been one of the most active in terms of turnover of players. Inter made 11 new additions to the squad (7 new signings, 4 players returning from loan/co-ownership). At the same time 9 players left (8 of them sold/retired/loan expiry, one sent out on co-ownership), and three others been told to find new clubs.
With cost reduction, especially the wage bill, being the name of the game, the axe rightly fell on non-performing high earners. Some were unceremoniously dumped, while others were dragged to the exit door kicking and screaming.
In central defense, Lucio who was growing increasingly prone to gaffes was dumped. The fact that other over 30 defenders like Walter Samuel and Christian Chivu took a big pay cut helped. Ivan Cordoba was eased into retirement. Attacker, Diego Forlan, who was another waste of money and space last season was also unceremoniously let go.
The club also decided not to take the option of permanently attaining the services of Mauro Zarate and Angelo Palombo, while dispute over fees meant that club lost the chance to make Andrea Poli’s loan permanent.
Goran Pandev who was on loan at Napoli had impressed them enough to cough up €8m to make the signing permanent. While Luc Castaignos decided to end his adventure in Italy bringing 7m Euros to the club. Talented young wingback Marco Faraoni was used as a makeweight to land Samir Handanovic.
Perhaps the most interesting sale was that of Giampaolo Pazzini. Adriano Galliani and co in their wisdom decided to hand over a vastly more talented Antonio Cassano and €7.5m to land Pazzini. Though they have totally different attributes, Cassano by any measure is a vastly more talented player than Pazzini, which makes the transfer even more intriguing.
In addition to the departures, the likes of Maicon, Julio Cesar and Dejan Stankovic all face an uncertain future. All of them have been told to find new clubs, yet due to their wage demands might end up staying. Together these three cost the club nearly €23m in wages, which the club is desperately trying to get rid of.
Freddy Guarin had impressed everyone in his brief loan period for the club to hand over €12m to make the signing permanent. Between him and Walter Gargano, signed for a potential €6.5m from Napoli, Inter have been blessed with a very mobile central midfield unit.
Rodrigo Palacio having scored 19 league goals for Genoa last season was brought in as a foil for Milito at a cost of 10.5m Euros, while Matias Silvestre joined on loan, with an option to make the deal permanent. Gaby Mudingayi is expected to be cover for the defensive midfield positions. Alvaro Pereira at €13m Euros is an expensive signing given Inter’s finances, but given his versatility he should be a good asset.
A somewhat luxury signing was that of Samir Handanovic at €11m, given that Julio Cesar was still among top Goalkeepers. Having said that, given the salary difference between two players, the signing pays for itself in two years, assuming Cesar leaves.
Antonio Cassano’s arrival at the club he supported from his childhood would be most interesting. A motivated Cassano is a nightmare for most defenders, but then he inevitably has his breakdown. At no club has he lasted more than 2 years without having one of his many tantrum attacks. It would be interesting to watch how he does at the club he holds close to his heart.
The club also welcomed back Coutinho who had a stellar season at Espanyol. Given Ricardo Alvarez’s less than satisfactory performances so far, he should become a perfect foil for Sneijder and co.
While right-back Jonathan and Macdonald Mariga arrived after their loan spell at Parma. Both of them will be used mainly to cover for first choice players. If either of them leave it should not be surprising. Samuele Longo who started in the NextGen Series was signed permanently from his co-ownership.
A Look At The Youth
In the past, the club has been guilty of allowing talented players coming out of the Primavera ranks to leave cheaply. Many youngsters who could have easily plugged in key gaps in the squad now ply their trade outside. In recent times Davide Santon, Leonardo Bonucci, Mattia Destro were all let go without being given adequate chances. When the club’s youngsters won the NextGen Series, the thought was how many of the talented kids will be lost. But the good news is that Stramaccioni who led the kids to the next gen championship is now heading the senior squad. One of his main tasks should be to ease in some of the most talented players from the NextGen winning squad like Daniele Bessa, Marko Livaja and Ibrahim M’Baye.
From the face of it, for a cash-strapped club, Inter spent significantly. The net spending this transfer window so far has been around €40m. Even accounting for the €10m received for Thiago Motta in January, €30m is still a significant sum of money spent on the transfer window. As they say the devil is in the details. Every new player brought in has been signed for significantly lower wages than the player he is replacing. The wage bill is lower by nearly €11m. If as expected, the trio of Julio Cesar, Dejan Stankovic and Maicon leave the club, the wage bill will be lighter by additional €23m, which means the transfer fee is recovered within a year.
In short – the club has achieved its primary goal of reducing the average age and the wage bill. In addition, for the first time in 3 years, the club has wholeheartedly supported the coach in getting the kind of players he requested.
While some fans do complain that the players signed are of lesser quality than then ones being sold, it can be said that based on current performances the new players are better than the ones they are replacing. Take Rodrigo Palacio for example. While he will never reach the level of Diego Forlan in his prime, he is much better than the 2012 version of Forlan. Same is the case with Silvestre who is replacing Lucio, Handanovic replacing Cesar.
From the face of it, it was a good mercato window, next only to the 2009 summer (when the Eto’o for Ibra deal took place). The ingredients are in place to build a title winning squad in a year or two; this squad has the capability to finish amongst the Champions league places.
The only downside of making such wholesale changes is that the team will take time to settle down. The minimum expectation from this side is CL qualification. Given the likes of Milan, Napoli, Roma and even Udinese who are likely to be in the race for the last two CL spots, it is imperative that the team settle down quickly and play to their full potential.
Written by Guest Author Arvind Balasubramanian
Follow the author on Twitter: @arvindb03