Inter crashed way below expectations last year but players Javier Zanetti and Mateo Kovacic believe that new coach Walter Mazzarri is ready to build a new winning tradition.
Winner of eight Serie A titles over the past decade, a combination of injuries and inconsistent play saw Inter hit rock bottom, finishing ninth last year.
Part of Inter's struggles came from a haphazard rebuilding effort last season. The team let some key veterans depart without adequate replacements, forcing inexperienced first-year manager Andrea Stramaccioni to use equally green young talent in important roles.
Speaking at a private event held at a upscale clothing store in New York City's Flatiron District, Kovacic admitted that Mazzari's vast experience and previous success at Napoli will give Inter some assured confidence heading into this year.
"He's older than Stramaccioni, so maybe he's bit more experienced and knows more about football," Kovacic told Goal. "With him, we've practiced a lot of tactics and have taught each other."
Kovacic joined Inter in January and although his adjustment to Serie A played a part of Inter's struggles, the Croatian international's playmaking ability led to many comparing him to fellow countryman Luka Modric. The 19-year-old midfielder is encouraged by the parallels between both players but hopes that he can show where he's different from the Real Madrid player.
"Luka has his good sides and bad sides and I have mine. We're different players," Kovacic explained. "Luka for me is one of the best players in the world and I want to be like him but in another way, I want to do my own work. I'm unique in my way.
"I want to show my best and do as good as I can."
It is young, cheaper talent like Kovacic that Inter is pinning its hopes on creating a new winning tradition. As a coach who didn't want to be identified for this story stated, "Kovacic is our new No. 10. You may not know him now but you will this season. I guarantee it."
While the approach may have backfired last season, the expectation is that this season with a full preseason and a new coach, major strides will be made. Zanetti, Inter's captain since 1999, has seen a lot of improvement since Mazzarri arrival.
"The idea is to create a group, work hard and that'll permit us to get to the levels where we were a few years ago," Zanetti told Goal.
At the private event in New York it was clear to see that Zanetti was very focused on Kovacic's development. He was constantly giving the young Croatian fashion tips and pulling him aside to give him pointers in regards to dealing with people. Considering Inter's well-known financial struggles, Zanetti's acknowledged that the careful development of young prospects like Kovacic is crucial to the team rebounding from a disappointing year
"I certainly hope so. We have some talented players and we hope to guide them to reach their potential," Zanetti explained.
It all comes down to Mazzari, who admits that Inter is a difficult challenge compared to what he faced at Napoli. When meeting Mazzari, he immediately comes off as brash but honest. After suffering a 4-0 loss at the hands of Valencia in the Guinness International Champions Cup, he refused to give a post-match press conference but spoke with reporters outside Inter's locker room at MetLife Stadium.
"Obviously, the friendly games that were already set up, I probably wouldn't have set them up had I come in earlier," Mazzari said through a translator.
When asked how this challenge is different from the one he faced at Napoli, where he consistently had the small budgeted team in the Champions League, he admits there's a lot of work ahead.
"It's a different situation between Naples and Inter. At Naples, we already had a set team and did well. At Inter, we're starting from scratch with a lot of new players and a essentially a new team. It's a new time for the club," Mazzari stated.
Inter's fans and players hope that Mazzarri can get things done quickly and get the club back into the Champions League but he's more pragmatic with his expectations.
"I think Inter should be a competitive team that should be challenging for the top of the table," Mazzari said. "We're not going to put expectations on ourselves right now. We're going to work hard and wherever the chips may fall, that's where they fall."
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