Calcio Debate: Inter New Boy McDonald Mariga - The Bargain Buy Of The January Sales

The window has closed and the trading floor has been cleared, giving Kris Voakes the chance to look into one of the better pieces of business during January.
Opportunism was what took McDonald Mariga to Appiano Gentile this week… opportunism, and the kinks in the UK government’s work permit system. But whatever alternatives Inter may have looked at first, and whatever put the kibosh on Manchester City’s attempts to sign the Kenyan, the Nerazzurri have landed themselves an absolute bargain.

There are certainly some comparisons to be made between this deal and the one which saw Sulley Muntari land in Milan in 2008. The Ghanaian had built up a hefty amount of Serie A experience, playing 125 games for Udinese before landing a €7 million switch to Premier League side Portsmouth. A successful year on the south coast under Harry Redknapp was enough to persuade Massimo Moratti to part with €15.5m for the then 24-year-old, and he has been a valuable addition during his 18 months at Inter so far.

Mariga’s story is fairly similar. His first European experiences came in Sweden with Enkopings and Helsingborgs, but his two-and-a-half seasons with Parma have been enough to show that he has real talent to put on show in a top footballing country. At the age of 22, he looked destined to make a similar step to Muntari, by sampling the Premier League with the world’s richest club.

But with British red tape excluding Kenya from the ranks of serious football superpowers, and Mariga therefore ineligible for a move to England, Inter have been allowed to swoop in and save themselves the kind of €8.5m mark-up they had to pay on Muntari. Instead they have offloaded Jonathan Biabiany and loaned Luis Jimenez to the Ducali, as well as paying a nominal €2.5m, for the co-ownership of Mariga. A snip in comparison.

And in many ways Mariga looks like a better long-term fit for Inter than Muntari. His stature immediately marks him out as a forceful presence, but he is also a great reader of the game both in attack and defence. He is undoubtedly a better player off the ball than on it at this moment in time; strong in the tackle, great at tracking back, excellent defensive anticipation and immediately aware of trouble around him.

But that’s not to say he can’t kick a ball too. The Kenyan can have a tendency to run himself into trouble when in possession, but that seems to come from sheer desire rather than a huge technical failure, and is something which can easily be ironed out with a number of training sessions at Appiano Gentile, as the enthusiastic youngster comes to terms with the increased demands for excellence at his new club. He also has a more than assured passing game, which suggests that, whilst he was used in a variety of positions by Francesco Guidolin at Parma, he will develop into a defensive midfield player of some repute in the coming months and years. Only niggling injuries have threatened to stunt Mariga’s growth, and Inter will hope that the change of scenery brings with it new luck on the physical front.

This transfer smacks of a move that really is looking to the future. Whoever instigated this on Inter’s behalf is a smart cookie. Clearly, between Moratti, Lele Oriali, Marco Branca and Jose Mourinho, there has been enough of an accord to push the deal through in double quick timing. But this will not have been a move dreamt up at the last minute, as much as the belief of many is that this was a simple case of making up for the failure to land Cristian Ledesma. Mariga is too much of a good fit for Inter, and the dynamic the team is taking on under Mourinho, for this to have been an afterthought. Yes, Ledesma may have been more ready to deal with the workload that this season may bring, but the Kenyan is not far from that level himself.

With the ‘Special One’ looking for a greater midfield stability ahead of big European occasions to come, Mariga would appear to be the perfect piece of Playdo, who can be easily moulded into a key midfielder for Inter’s future big dates. With Javier Zanetti turning 37 in the summer, and Esteban Cambiasso seemingly unable to reproduce his stunning Serie A form in continental competition, Mourinho has been looking for back-up. And in Mariga they have a player who could give Inter some of the physical edge they have been missing; the kind of edge which English sides have used to their advantage over the last three years in the Champions League.

So whilst Fiorentina’s signings may have cost more, and Lazio have signed a number of key players, it’s Inter who may well have plunged into the bargain bin and come up with the most valuable item of all in the January sales.