By Mark Doyle
There are few stories that better illustrate the unpredictable nature of 'The Beautiful Game' than that of Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni. This time last year, he was such an unknown within the world of Italian football he did not even have his own Wikipedia page. By October, he was being touted as ‘the new Jose Mourinho’. Now, less than four months later, he is reportedly one derby defeat away from the sack. It would be a shame if such a scenario unfolds.
On the face of it, his job seems safe ... for now, at least. Inter chairman Massimo Moratti has been very vocal in his support of his under-fire coach and only this week the oil tycoon told Sky Sport Italia: “Stramaccioni has never been up for discussion."
Admittedly, it is difficult to believe any Italian club owner is not constantly considering his coach’s credentials, least of all one who is on his fifth trainer in less than three years. In addition, given Inter’s form - two wins from their last eight Serie A outings - it would be very naive to think a change of leadership has not even crossed Moratti’s mind. Indeed, there is mounting speculation that a decision has already been made and Walter Mazzarri, whose contract with Napoli expires at the end of the current campaign, will take up residence at Appiano Gentile this summer.
However, it seems more likely the Nerazzurri supremo will give Stramaccioni as long as possible to prove himself, if only out of a combination of stubbornness and vanity. After a succession of ill-advised appointments following Mourinho’s devastating defection to Real Madrid three years ago, an incredibly desperate Moratti decided last March to turn to an untested 36-year-old to salvage Inter's season. Stramaccioni had just led the club's Primavera to victory in the prestigious NextGen Series but he had no previous experience of coaching in Serie A.
Inter still missed out on qualification for the Champions League but that they had even gone close convinced Moratti to appoint Stramaccioni on a full-time basis. It appeared an incredibly shrewd move in light of Inter's stunning 3-1 victory over Juventus in Turin earlier this season, a triumph which not only ended the Bianconeri's 49-game undefeated run in Serie A but also appeared to announce the Nerazzurri as genuine title contenders.
Moratti revelled in an exhilarating triumph founded on a boldness and daring he felt he himself had shown in hiring a novice now being hailed as 'The Special Two'. “In my view,” Moratti mused at the time, “the thing that makes him most similar to Mourinho is his dedication to work. Like Mou, Stramaccioni is also a great coach.”
After lavishing such premature praise on Stramaccioni, Moratti has had no other option but to stand steadfastly by his man in the wake of a wretched run of form that effectively dates back to that historic triumph in November against Antonio Conte's men. Moratti is now loathe to give up on Stramaccioni as it would be an admission that he has got it wrong. Again.
However, while Moratti’s stubbornness might yet prove the determining factor in Stramaccioni’s survival, it really shouldn’t be. The former Bologna defender has made several mistakes since taking charge of the Nerazzurri - but he has usually been man enough to admit them and try to learn from them. Only last week, he shouldered the blame for Inter’s dismal capitulation at the hands of an out-of-form Fiorentina side, confessing he had erred in playing too strong a side in their Europa League clash with Cluj at San Siro three days previously.
|STRAMACCIONI'S SORRY STREAK IN SERIE A
Inter in Freefall | Two wins in eight games
|Inter 1||Genoa 1|
|Udinese 3||Inter 0
|Inter 2||Pescara 0|
|Roma 1||Inter 1|
|Inter 2||Torino 2|
|Siena 3||Inter 1|
|Inter 3||Chievo 1|
|Fiorentina 4||Inter 1|
Stramaccioni has also been guilty of tinkering too much with formations this term. While his tactical versatility is undoubtedly one of his strengths (his decision to play three up front against Juve was inspired), it has also proven something of a weakness, as Inter still look nothing like a settled side.
However, there are mitigating circumstances here in that Inter do not have a particularly deep squad. Consequently, Stramaccioni has not been able to rotate to good effect, and nor has he really been able to deal with the loss of key players such as Wesley Sneijder, who was frozen out due to a contractual dispute before being sold, or injured Argentine duo Walter Samuel and Diego Milito.
The other key issue here is Stramaccioni, in spite of his errors and Inter’s dismal form, appears, for all intents and purposes, to retain the full backing of the dressing room. Yes, Javier Zanetti is a model professional and therefore unlikely to rock the boat, but he has repeatedly given Stramaccioni his backing.
“He's very young and he's gaining experience with us,” the Inter skipper conceded. “But it takes time and hopefully at the end of the season we'll be talking about something great that we've achieved.”
Witness also the impressive response against Cluj in Romania on Thursday night to last week's humbling in Florence as evidence that Inter's players remain firmly behind their boss.
So, while a derby defeat would feel like the end of the world for Inter fans, it shouldn’t be the end of Stramaccioni’s stay at San Siro. As Zanetti, so often the voice of reason on all things Inter, quite rightly points out, Stramaccioni should only be judged at the end of the season because, as the young trainer's fledgling Serie A career has already repeatedly underlined, a lot can change in just few months.
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