By Kris Voakes
The last time Inter lost 15 league games in a season, Sir Alex Ferguson was six years old. Now, as the football world pays tribute to the retiring Manchester United manager, the Nerazzurriare busy mourning one of the most humiliating campaigns in their history.
Andrea Stramaccioni has spent the past few weeks decrying his side’s bad fortune, and claimed after Inter’s 3-1 home defeat to Lazio on Wednesday that a second half penalty miss “summed up our season.” But while the 37-year-old has certainly been dealt a rough hand in his first full term as coach, the fact that there will be no European football next season for a club which won the biggest continental prize of all just three short years ago speaks volumes about where they are as a collective right at this moment.
Injuries have shorn Inter of key players at crucial times. With no Diego Milito, Antonio Cassano and Rodrigo Palacio available, Tommaso Rocchi last night led a forlorn fight against former club Lazio as the Nerazzurri went down 3-1 to end their hopes of Europa League football. But there were elements of self-imposed agony about the whole occasion too.
|INTER'S 2012-13 DEFEATS
Samir Handanovic, by far and away the club’s Player of the Season in most people’s eyes, flapped at an Antonio Candreva cross, palming it into his own net after a mix-up with Andrea Ranocchia. The defender then pulled down Sergio Floccari with a typically clumsy challenge to gift Lazio a penalty. And when the home side got a spot-kick of their own after the break, Ricardo Alvarez slipped on his run-up, sending the ball flying high over the crossbar into the Curva Nord.
Having witnessed the ridiculous, Lazio contributed the sublime when Ogenyi Onazi’s spectacular drive from more than 30 yards found the top corner. It summed up Inter’s campaign in so many ways; this just hasn’t been their season.
But Stramaccioni cannot simply put it all down to bad luck. He has certainly been severely hamstrung, but the lack of quality of some of the players at his disposal is as much a point of contention as has been the side’s injury record. While the error by Handanovic was a blot on an otherwise clean copybook, those of Ranocchia and Alvarez were not.
A club which has been seeking to cut costs on the transfer market needs also to ensure that what money is spent gets used wisely. Alvarez cost over €9 million but has been afforded a full 90 minutes only eight times in two seasons, with five of those coming in the last month when few other options have been available. The Argentine has no change of pace, no real trick in his armoury and no confidence pumped into him from those around him. It sums up his Inter spell that his stand-out performance for the club, when he scored two goals as a substitute against Atalanta in April, became memorable for Inter’s collapse to a 4-3 defeat from 3-1 ahead.
Ranocchia, meanwhile, has been his typical calamitous self for much of the season. There were early signs that he may adapt well to the three-man defence which saw Stramaccioni choose him alongside Walter Samuel and Juan Jesus, but that was a temporary reprieve. Having spent €15m when signing him from Genoa in January 2011, Inter have seemingly done nothing on the training ground to help him deal with his extensive technical deficiencies and regular lapses of concentration.
A succession of coaches coming and going cannot help, but even with Stramaccioni’s input over the last year there has been no sign that Ranocchia is getting any better. Formations and personnel can be chopped and changed, but the quality and effectiveness of coaching is truly borne out in how technical issues are ironed out of players. Yet the giant defender remains proof positive that Inter have been as much at fault as the injury gods for their current malaise.
This season cannot end soon enough for Inter fans. Come next Sunday night, the curtain will come down on a rotten 12 months. But the feeling sorry for oneself and the ‘What If’s must stop now. Because it will take hard work and sacrifice on the training ground, even more than a change of luck, to get the Nerazzurri to where they need to be. If Stramaccioni thinks Inter can do exactly the same again but with a clean bill of health, and that that will be enough, he is in the wrong job.