Finally the verdict had been issued. Walter Mazzarri was sacked for the first time in his coaching career and replaced immediately with Roberto Mancini. Such news becomes synonymous with Inter which changed their coach every year or even every couple of months under Moratti control. But, in this case, Thohir had been very patient and faithful to Mazzarri considering the result of last season. If it were Moratti, Mazzarri could be already sacked at last season when Inter met a string of bad results. Thohir tried to learn from his predecessor’s mistake and tried to put the faith on Mazzarri’s ability even extending his contract to 2016. Such approach should be a breath of fresh air for the fans who has been accustomed to multiple coaches per year, but it turned out to be complete calamity instead.
Of course the series of bad result is the main culprit when the coach begins to feel his hot seat. But there are more than bad results which will eventually lead to sacking. Generally, the coach is judged by either result, progress, and/or football attractiveness (to lesser extent). Mazzarri achieves none. When Moratti hired Mazzarri, there was only 1 objective in the former’s head : Champions League spot. Then it turned out to be European League spot and was barely secured at 2 weeks before the season ended. Result-wise, season 2013-2014 was a disaster and it still is as Inter still sit at the midtable and are not showing any sort of improvement. Two years absence from UCL will spell further problem for Inter as they do not gain huge revenue from participating.
Mazzarri has proven that he is a quite accomplished coach. He propelled Livorno to Serie A, he managed to keep Reggina in Serie A for 3 years, his Sampdoria reached new high after a long drought of mediocrity i.e. 6th place for UEFA Cup spot and Coppa Italia runner-up. His main achievement was with Napoli when he won Coppa Italia, became runner-up of Serie-A and Italia Super Cup, and almost blew Chelsea out of UCL before The Blues managed to overturn 3-1 deficit with 4-1 victory. The history proves that he always managed to punch above his weight, but his magic surely waned with Inter.
There is a common tactical pattern among all the clubs Mazzarri managed before Inter. They are 3 men defence, solid defending, vertical football, and reliance on certain individuals to score the goals. Of course the most memorable example was Napoli. In season 2012-2013, Napoli conceded 36 goals, only Juventus the league winner conceded less. The transition from defence to offence was quick, supported by fast and furious Zuniga, Maggio, and Behrami. And it was the season when Cavani, Lavezzi, and Hamsik hit the peak of their career with their imperious counter-attack. It was similar with Livorno and Sampdoria when he relied on Lucarelli and Pazzini-Cassano to score.
There are many suspected factors on why Mazzarri underperforms and the main culprit is his monotonous tactic. Strangely, it is the same tactic which he gained success under previous clubs. It is not the syndrome of mediocre-coach-in-elite-club. That’s not the case with Mazzarri as he already made his reputation known when he trained Napoli. He was there for 4 seasons, his philosophy was always the same. His opponents knew what they were going to play against yet Mazzarri kept winning and Napoli still finished at 3rd, 5th, and 2nd place in Serie-A respectively.
Instead of 3-5-2 formation that had been made as main culprit, one of the main factor why Mazzarri failed horribly with Inter was the absence of the talisman which were Cavani, Pazzini-Cassano, and Lucarelli. Palacio declines as he ages and he already suffers from burnt out because of his massive workload for 2.5 seasons long. Icardi and Kovacic could be the future, but they are not ready yet now, not at this level. Meanwhile, Osvaldo still struggles with injury. But, this not an excuse. It is coach’s duty to work with whatever resources he has and here is where Mazzarri failed. 3-5-2 is not bad formation per se. It experiences resurgence recently as Netherlands grabbed 3rd place in WC 2014 with this formation and more clubs experiment with it. But, Mazzarri’s fixation onto it and his failure in finding goals without relying on single player became the source of disaster.
The performace of 3-5-2 depends heavily on 2 wingbacks yet Inter do not have suitable one. The most obvious problem is none of Inter wingbacks are comfortable with crossing and well-balanced both in offence and defence. The biggest victim was Icardi. As the old-style striker who relies heavily on coming service, he simply became invisible during matches as he starved for the ball. Currently, only Nagatomo who can deliver the cross properly, but his delivery quality is inconsistent and too often dwelling with the ball for too long, leaving himself being closed down and missing the chance to whip the ball. Dodo is an adept dribbler, but his marker is more than happy to let him run at the flank and cross the ball as it either fails to beat first defender or floating for very long time in the air, making the job of defender easier to clear the ball. D’Ambrosio might be decent defensively, but he provides little offensively. And as for Jonathan, he is simply out of depth at Inter. He might improve vastly under Mazzarri, but he is still a liability and accidents in waiting.
Mazzarri also failed in developing the play from the center. It was obvious that Inter mostly held more possession than the opponents, but they fail to convert it into a goal. When the last 4 goals come from the set-piece, it meant there was something horribly wrong with the creativity. Kovacic, Medel, and Hernanes may circulate the ball from one to other side, but there is hardly any penetration to opposing defence. The problem worsened as without proper wingback, the center core of Inter suffer because no one helped them stretching the defence. And again, it costed Inter the goal with Icardi starved for the ball. Neither from flank nor from the center he could reliably get the ball.
Tactic flexibility is one of the trait of great manager and this is where Mazzarri lacks. Several years ago when Mourinho handled Inter, he deployed his favoured 4-3-3 formation with newly signed Mancini and Quaresma as the main men, but as they flopped horribly, he immediately scraped his gameplan hence improving the result. In more recent example, Van Gaal lost his key midfielder Strootman prior to World Cup 2014. Knowing that no other player could replace him in Strootman role, Van Gaal switched to 3-5-2 and bringing Netherlands to 3rd position. The same man also adapts to the situation quickly in Manchester. Spending whole pre-season with 3-5-2, he switches to other formation when he realizes his squad is no longer suitable to his original plan. Meanwhile, Mazzarri didn’t budge. He still sticked to his formation even without suitable wingbacks. And look at the strikers that he had. He only had 3 senior strikers and Bonazzoli, a Primavera striker who is definitely out of depth in Serie-A. It became worse as Osvaldo was injured, leaving him with only 2 experienced strikers. Still, he did not alter anything hence disastrous outcome. Uncreative attacking scheme together with tactical inflexibility and poor player rotation (with Palacio, Kovacic, and Dodo unable to catch a breath) are one of the key factors of his failure.
As if Mazzarri’s stubbornness is not terrible enough, it is not exactly the biggest problem. It is the lack of urgency which invited all the boos and whistles from all Nerazzurri faithful. Way too many times that Mazzarri failed to grab full 3 points against minnow oppositions even at his own turf Giusseppe Meazza. It had been common sight for Inter home matches that they would be content holding the ball without attempting any threatening attack as if victory was unnecessary. Even against bottom clubs such as Bologna, Sampdoria etc. After being unproductive for 60-70 minutes, the opposition would always manage to steal a goal. Only then Mazzarri decided to shift the gear up and Inter started attacking. Rarely they managed to claw the victory, it was mostly either draw or even loss. Eitherway, they are unacceptable results considering the players that Mazzarri had and the money he had spent. The home draw against Verona was the final straw, but the frustration was built-up long time ago, culminating in embarassing 1-4 home defeat against Cagliari and lost against bottom of the table Parma 2-0 this season.
Actually, Mazzarri wasn’t all bad. There were few positive points that he achieved with Inter although they were still heavily outweighed by all the negative aspects. The defensive reliability was the most improving aspect especially compared to atrocious defence by previous coach Stramaccioni. Mazzarri managed to improve the conceding goal to 39 goals per season compared to 57 goals previously. That was massive improvement. Ranocchia and Juan also enjoyed their progress as defender. And if was not because of the controversial decision to keep fielding Vidic, perhaps current Inter defence could be better. But, again, they were not enough to keep his job.
Based on all the disappointing results and little progress as the club, the dismissal of Mazzarri seemed inevitable. The surprising part was how quickly the trigger was pulled. It was expected that Mazzarri would be kept as a coach at least until the end of 2014-2015 season as Inter struggled financially, let alone considering FFP factor. Inter are already in big deficit and paying huge compensation for Mazzarri –who had highest salary in Serie-A- would drive them deeper into abyss. Perhaps it was where Thohir made the first blunder to rush the extension of Mazzarri’s contract to 2016. If Moratti was too quick to fire the coach, Thohir is the contrary; he was too quick to trust the coach. Based on the result of previous season, Mazzarri certainly did not worth the extension, let alone so early. Even if Mazzarri managed to achieve great result this season, there is hardly any club who would poach him at the end of season. Mazzarri’s high earning was already the stumbling block for all Serie-A clubs and perhaps only Juventus who afford him, but they and other top Serie-A clubs are already stable with their respective coaches. An offer from abroad is even more unreasonable. The only logical reasoning for the contract extension is probably to symbolize the faith which Thohir put onto Mazzarri. But it definitely is not how football works. Anyway, let bygones be bygones and Thohir has the chance to redempt himself with the appointment of Mancini. Will it be redemption or another same old Inter-coach troublsome relationship, that is for time to tell.