Watching the derby last weekend, I started thinking about what ET's strategic blueprint is for Inter, from a sporting point of view. I hope there is one, and from the limited visibility that we have had, it certainly looks like Thohir thinks more about the direction he wants the club to take than Moratti did. His decisions seem a bit less random, a bit less driven by emotion. Whatever his plan is, that got me wondering what my plan would be if I was in Thohir's (and Mancini's) place.
Here are those random thoughts:
Scope: I am keeping the larger financial discussion out of the scope of this plan, this is just the sporting view. Financial constraints and sporting objectives do go hand in hand, I don't deny that. But below are just ideas here to illustrate a point and a structure of a plan. Any player transfers that I talk about are only symbolic to illustrate the strategy. Of course market realities and Mancini's wishes will be different than what we imagine, so when I say buy Yaya Toure, its just to demonstrate what we need as an example. I am not suggesting that he is the player we should buy at any cost. Hopefully that will become clear in the category analysis below.
EDIT: Have edited out the illustrative examples as they seem to be distracting readers too much.
1. Sporting Objective for next 5 years:
2015-16: Develop a competitive squad, compete for CL spots. Minimum: EL Qualification.
2016-17: Achieve CL qualification, challenge for Scudetto. Minimum: Top 3 finish
2017-20: Min top 3 finish each season, win at least 1 Scudetto, and qualify from CL group stage at least twice, reach the CL semis at least once.
That is a bit ambitious progression, but not too ambitious either. It is achievable. The "minimum" requirement is what the coach needs to achieve to carry on, provided he has got the minimum support discussed below. If he does not get the minimum support listed below, then we need to be more realistic about what we expect Mancio to achieve.
2. Playing Philosophy, Style
Assuming we are starting with Mancini in 2015-16, embrace his style of football as a starting point. Which possibly means 4-2-3-1 or a midfield diamond. This style of football with constant interchange between possession football and physical chasing the game off the ball is quite modern, and can become a good base to build from in the future.
This philosophy is important because it defines what kind of managers we can hire. It is important that when we look to replace Mancini, we look at a coach who has similar ideas so that we can build from where Mancio left off. Which leads us to the manager plan...
Consistency in the managers role is key to achieve these goals, specially in the first 2 years. Any manager changes will put this plan back at least by 1 year. However, Mancini may be able to take us only so far, and 1 change may be needed in the next 5 years.
For this plan to work, the first two seasons objectives ideally have to be met by Mancini. He has the capability to develop a competitive squad, that is possibly the reason he was hired. Stick with him for at least 2 years, and see if he achieves these goals. If we give him the support he needs, there is no reason why he cannot achieve these realistic short term minimum objectives.
If Mancini achieves the objectives in the first 2 seasons, give him another season with the minimum objective of a Top 3 finish and going past the CL group stage. If he achieves that give him another season with the aim of winning the scudetto and/or reaching CL semis.
If Mancini fails to achieve the first two season objectives, then find a replacement. The new manager as to be someone who can achieve the next 3 season's objectives, and has similar football philosophy. For e.g., someone like Simeone or Mihajlovic will not be too disruptive a change.
I would also get someone like Simeone in the 4th season in any case, if Mancini starts hitting his very familiar roadblock in Europe. I think Mancini's ideal life at Inter is about 2 to 4 seasons from here on, after which we will need an upgrade in any case.
4. Transfer Strategy:
To implement Mancini's brand of football, in the next two seasons we will need better wing players, stronger DMs, proper fullbacks, and at least 1 starting CB. That is a big list, and will need 2-3 transfer windows to completely fulfil considering our financial constraints. It is important that we back Mancini on the priorities. He may make mistakes, but we will make bigger mistakes if we are not in sync with him.
Lets look at the first season strategy in more detail.
5. Squad Categories
The squad needs to be a mix of youth and experience, potential and quality. We no longer have the luxury of focussing only on the future - if that is what we wanted to do then we have the wrong manager. So our 25 player squad should consist of the following 4 categories:
A. Core team: Starting XI players like Handanovic, Icardi, Shaqiri, etc who are good now and good for the next 5 years.
B. Short Term players: Players who are quality now, but are too old to last 5 years. These are only to achieve the next 1-2 years objectives. Eg Palacio, Hernanes, etc
C. Squad players: Players on low wages who can be counted to make decent bench strength for at least the next 2 years objectives. These will need to be improved upon when we have the budget. Players like D'Ambrosio, Santon, Juan, etc. Even Kuzmanovic
D. Youth players: The young players on low wages who can have a big impact in 2 years time. These have to be payers with big potential. Perhaps Gnoukouri, Puscas, etc are good examples.
The idea above is to initially make sure we have enough Category A and B players to make a starting XI, and then slowly ease our Category B and Category D into Category A. Over the next two years, we have to work on reducing our category C.
6. 2015-16 Squad Requirements
Where do we focus our transfer budget on in the next 12 months, in order to ensure we achieve minimum objectives:
Goalkeepers: There is no emergency here, unless Handa does not sign the extension. If Handa is confirmed, there is no point wasting any money here. Back up roles can be filled with former academy gks.
CBs: We need to spend some money on at least 1 quality CB. Funds can be got by getting rid of Vidic's wages. Is Murillo the answer, I am not too sure. We need someone better than Ranocchia to partner him with. Lets call him CB1.
Fullbacks: Between D'ambrosio, Santon & Nagatomo, we can muster up 1 starter and 2 back ups. We need another starter who is better than any of our existing options. Damian is an ideal example of what kind of player we should target, though he is probably out of our price range. Lets call him FB1.
Deep Midfield: Medel & Brozovic are a good starting point, but we need a leader here. I don't think Guarin is that leader, though I don't mind if he stays as an alternative (ideally I would sell him while he still has some resale value left). Yaya is one example of what kind of player we need (he would be clearly category B player). If we get someone like Yaya, maybe Mancio will happily sell Guarin! Lets call this player MID1.
Attacking Midfield / Wingers: Shaqiri and Hernanes are good options in the central attacking midfield for the short term objectives, so no major surgery required here. Maybe Kovacic could be sold (as he has the most value) to raise funds for a quality winger. This should be our biggest purchase, someone who has the quality and end product to lift our team. Ideally someone who can stay the course for the next 5 years. Felipe Anderson, Salah, Cuadrado, Gervinho, etc are examples of the calibre of player I am talking about. Lets call this player WING1.
Strikers: Depending on whether we will play with a 2 striker option or a 1 striker formation, this could change. I am assuming Mancio wants to play 4-2-3-1, in which case Icardi and Palacio are good enough for now, with someone like Puscas as an understudy. We have no Europe next season, and a new striker will cost a lot of money, so I would wait 6-12 months. The other positions need surgery more, lets focus our funds. But when we buy a striker, it has to be a quality one.
This would mean getting rid of the following players:
OUT: Kovacic, Vidic, Campagnaro, Podolski, Felipe, Obi, and Guarin
IN: CB1, FB1, MID1, & WING1
The idea is to focus all funds on 4 players, try for free/loan deals where ever possible, but buy only quality starting players who can make an immediate difference. That is important.
Clearly the above will come at a cost, we will have to spend more than we can make from selling players. So some investment will be needed this summer if this next 2 year plan is to work, which is critical for the next 5 years to work. If Ausilio thinks this project can succeed without additional funds, then good luck to him. I disagree with that, I think he is being delusional.
IMO this summer is a critical juncture for Inter. Either we give Mancio the minimum he needs to build a competitive squad, or we risk losing our way again and possibly starting from ZERO again in 2016.
7. Category Classification Analysis in 2015-16
A. Core team - 8:Handanovic, CB1, Ranocchia, FB1, Brozovic, Shaqiri, WING1, Icardi
B. Short Term players - 3: Palacio, Hernanes, MID1
C. Squad players 10: Berni, Carrizo, D'Ambrosio, Santon, Nagatomo, Juan, Andreolli, Murillo, Kuz, Medel.
D. Youth players - 4: Gnoukouri, Puscas, Dodo, Camara
1. 2015 Minimum: By buying these 4 players, we have just enough players in Category A & B to make a starting 11. This is key if we want to achieve our short term objectives. What this means is that if we can't afford players like Anderson and Darmian, it means that we must replace them cheaper, older players in Category B who offer similar quality even if its short term. If we don't do that, and replace them with Category C or D players, we seriously risk derailing this project even before it begins.
2. Is it Enough?: It can be argued that just 11 Category A & B players will not be enough. Which is probably true. My point here is that this is MINIMUM. If we can afford more, or land more players by loan/free deals, that would be brilliant. We don't have Europe to worry about next season, so even if 11 quality players and some decent depth, we stand a chance of achieving our objectives. This is one of the reasons why I did not say that CL qualification is a NECESSARY objective for 2015-16. Its definitely something we should aim for, but to be realistic, we may not have the funds to give Mancio any more players to make that as a minimum objective. But with the above squad will give Mancio a fighting chance to achieve CL qualification even in 2015-16.
3. Transfers over next 3 windows: Over the next 2 years, we need to slowly replace the Category C players with some Category A or B players, as much as the budget allows. IMO the first priority will be a striker/winger, who could be got on loan in the winter. I do feel that the above squad is short a winger, but wanted to be realistic with this summers spend.
4. Youth Development: Over the next 2 years, the focus also needs to be on developing some of the Category D players or academy players into Category A. With someone like Gnoukouri, it may be possible. Some of them may leave on loan to develop, and get replaced by academy players.
5. 2016-17: By that season, we will need a bigger squad with more quality depth. I would expect at least 15 Category A & B players if we want to achieve our goals. It is important to remember, that if everything goes as per plan we may also be playing in Europe (CL or at least EL) so will need quality players for rotation. If funds are a problem, we may have to look at more loan deals or Category B deals. I know a lot of FIF posters are anti-Category-B, but when you don't have funds, you have to improvise.
8. A bit of fantasy
This bit is just a lil bit of indulgence from my end. I just wanted to see how the starting XI will look like with the above squad, and how our B team will look (which gives an idea of depth):
Not too shabby. The reserves in attack look very weak (dodo as a winger makes be cringe a bit), so maybe we do need another winger fairly quickly. Maybe a loan deal to replace the Podolski loan failure. And perhaps we should replace Brozovoic with Medel in the starting XI. But this does look like a decent starting point.
Anyways, the squads are beside the point. The thought process is what counts, and breaking the 5 year plan into what we need this summer - we need at least 4 quality players (Category A or B), ideally 5. After that, we need add 1-2 quality players every window plus replace any who don't work out. That is the kind of commitment it will take to ensure that we are in the CL in 1-2 years time. This plan also hinges on Mancio keeping his shit together and not losing his head. If he loses his head, we need to replace him with someone who fits this playing philosophy as close as possible, and push our objectives back by 1 year so that our expectations are not unrealistic.
Rebuilding is going to be a slow and painful process. I hope Thohir has a similar plan, and has the commitment to see it through.