Saturday, 7 July 2007
Football commentators were never going to get excited or compliment Inter on a job well done. When the Scudetto was decided in Siena, the effort by the club’s management and its players was grudgingly recognised. Little time was granted for Interisti to enjoy the moment and dwell upon the team’s achievements. The media’s focus instantly switched to Milan and the Champions League and Juventus’ efforts to regain their Serie A status. Inter’s first championship victory (on field) since season 1988-1989 was dismissed as quickly as when the media used to declare Inter a club in crisis.
Grappling with Juventus: Perception, Reality and Double Standards
None of the above should come as a surprise but what was meant to be a joyous and special occasion was quickly archived. Despite the Scudetto, inevitable comparisons have been made between Inter’s victory and those of Juventus in past years and many Interisti would quietly be thinking: What do we have to do to earn some respect and get the recognition we deserve?
In Italy, success in football is measured against the Old Lady of Italian football, regardless of how that success was achieved. If ever there were any doubts about Juventus’ revered status, one only has to look as far as Calciopoli, the club’s demotion to Serie B and the glowing manner in which many commentators continue to praise their “miraculous” return to Serie A. Only in Italy is it possible for a club to be relegated to the second division for influencing match officials and yet still be a point of reference. If the Bianconeri had started their Serie B campaign on -30 points and managed to avoid relegation then perhaps their efforts would have greater merit but the fact their original penalty was reduced to -9 makes their achievement far less significant than commentators would otherwise want us to believe.
From the beginning of season 2006-2007, the pressure was on Inter to win the Scudetto: Juventus had been demoted, and both Milan and Fiorentina were handed points penalties. It was the season that Inter could not lose and commentators were of the view that given Inter’s squad, the Scudetto would be a stroll in the park.
The acquisition of Patrick Vieira and Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Juventus proved controversial as the Nerazzurri supposedly “plundered” the Old Lady for two of the club’s best players. How a combined total of 34.3 million euros for both players can be deemed as insufficient payment remains to be seen and one could be mistaken for thinking that both players arrived against their will and were released on free transfers.
To put the bias with regards to transfers into perspective, think back to when Seedorf, and Pirlo moved to Milan and Cannavaro went to Juventus. All three players moved from Inter to the aforementioned clubs and went on to win silverware or perform significantly better than when they were at Inter.
Despite the years that have passed, commentators continue to mock Inter’s management for allowing Seedorf, Pirlo and Cannavaro to leave the club. That mockery is even more difficult to take when one considers the players Inter accepted in return namely, Morfeo, Guly and, Carini. For many years, Inter’s supporters watched as Seedorf became a solid performer at Milan whilst Pirlo, a self proclaimed Nerazzurri fan, established himself as an indispensable figure in Milan’s starting eleven and went on to win the World Cup.
It is undeniable that Vieira and Zlatan brought class and a winning mentality to a team that lacked steel and imagination but rather than complimenting Inter’s management for recognising the team’s shortcomings and remedying the problem, the club was criticised for taking advantage of Juventus’ downfall. Ah, but that is right, we are talking about Juventus. Calciopoli was simply a result of Juventus being a victim of their own “success”.
Record Breaking Inter
Season 2006-2007 was a record breaking season for Inter. From 25 October, 2006 to 25 February, 2007 the Nerazzurri won a record 17 consecutive Serie A matches. That run of results saw Inter break the Italian domestic record of 12 consecutive victories set by Roma the previous season as well as the all time European record of 15 consecutive victories, previously held by Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.
Inter were unbeaten after 31 rounds of the season, beating Juventus’ 28 round record set in season 2005-2006 for a 20-team Serie A. If the previous season is taken into consideration then the Nerazzurri went unbeaten for 33 consecutive games with a record of 25 wins and eight draws.
In all competitions, Inter did not lose in 39 matches, since the 2-0 Champions League loss to Bayern Munich on 27 September, 2006 a result that was followed by 30 wins and nine draws.
By Week 30 of season 2006-2007, Inter had the highest points per game average in Serie A history, picking up 79 of the 87 available points which equalled a 91% average.
Lastly, the Nerazzurri also set a new Serie A record with 11 consecutive away victories achieved between 28 October, 2006 and 18 March, 2007 at Ascoli.
In any other football league the above statistics and records are compelling and would make any supporter proud. Unfortunately, all of the hard work and effort undertaken by the coach and players to achieve the above results has been undermined by Juventus’ relegation to Serie B. Many believe that if Juventus were in Serie A, Inter would not have had it so “easy” but on that reasoning, who is not to say that Inter may have won something a great deal earlier if it had not been for Juventus’ management influencing match officials?
To simply dismiss Inter’s achievements by arguing that it would not have been so easy if Juventus were in the top flight is to fail to acknowledge the professionalism of the players and the magnitude of the above statistics and records. With the exception of a loss in Milan against Roma and a home draw against Palermo, Inter managed to beat their direct rivals for the championship in both home and away matches.
Winning the championship was not a simple task as the team had to manage memories of past failures and the burden of expectation of the Nerazzurri faithful. On many occasions Inter showed great strength, character, maturity and a new found confidence in their abilities as they fought back from deficits to take three points. The team had everything to lose and despite their lead in the championship they remained motivated and focused on winning the Scudetto. Given that Inter did not fall into the trap of becoming complacent championship leaders, it is hard to conceive how any of the above could simply be dismissed as “easy”.
The Place of Foreign Players in Italian Football
“To be honest, I still think there are too many foreigners in Serie A. In my day there were three and I think there should be no more than five per team”.
Azzurri Coach Roberto Donadoni
The above quote provides some insight into why Inter’s Scudetto victory may be undervalued. Given the above view was expressed by Italian National team coach Roberto Donadoni, it is not inconceivable that Italian football commentators have less time for Inter as a result of the amount of foreigners at the club.
With the exception of Toldo, Grosso (now departed for Lyon), Materazzi and Andreolli, Inter’s squad is primarily comprised of foreign players. Inter lack household Italian names such as Maldini, Costacurta, Gattuso, Inzaghi, Gilardino, Buffon, and Del Piero which may make it difficult for Italian football commentators to relate to the Nerazzurri. This attitude has possibly been consolidated by the fact that as Champions of Italy and with the exception of Materazzi, Inter are of greater assistance to the Argentine National team than they are to the Nazionale.
Criticism of Inter does not only come from within Italy as the club was also criticised by FIFA President, Sepp Blatter who commented on the amount of foreigners and lack of Italian players at the club.
The fact that Inter managed to draw criticism from FIFA’s President is confirmation that the team’s hard work and effort has been noticed at the highest level. But the fact of the matter is that the players on the club’s books and their respective nationalities has nothing to do with the FIFA President and may be a contributing factor as to why the club has not received the recognition it so justly deserves.
Although the English Premier League is widely believed to be the best league in the world, season 2007-2008 in Italy has the potential to be one of the best seasons in recent memory. Established names such as Napoli and Genoa have returned to their rightful place in the top flight and Serie A will at last be able to witness a resumption of Derby hostilities in fixtures between Torino and Juventus and Genoa and Sampdoria.
Of course, Inter will be there as defending champions but the Nerazzurri faithful should prepare themselves for a very difficult season. For the first time since season 1988-1989, Inter will be playing as Italian Champions. The commanding way in which they won this season’s championship will also have a bearing on season 2007-2008 as the media will be more than willing to jump to the conclusion that there is a club “crisis” following an adverse result and will be waiting for Inter to falter.
Having won the Championship, the Champions League will also be an important competition as the players will strive to prove their pedigree and win some respect by going as far as possible in Europe’s most elite competition.
Lastly, but surely not least, Inter will have to contend with the return of Juventus. Given the exchange of hostilities that has taken place since the latter club was relegated, all indications are that matches between Inter and Juventus will be hard fought affairs as both teams will have scores to settle and a great deal to prove to the other.
For Inter, the fixtures against Juventus present a minefield. A loss to the Bianconeri could open old wounds with the Nerazzurri being labelled as pretenders. This inturn could lead to a resurface of all the old psychological baggage that burdened the team in the past seasons.
Alternatively, if Inter were to beat Juventus and successfully defend their championship, such an achievement would not really count because Juventus are “rebuilding” or are a “work in progress”. It would be inconceivable to count a loss for Juventus in their first season back in the top flight as they could not possibly be expected to compete with the likes of Inter.
The lines have been drawn. Interisti, do not say you have not been warned as the script for season 2007-2008 has already been written. If there are any certainties of which you can be sure, they are that Inter will get scant recognition for their efforts and every aspect of the club, its management, the players and results will be scrutinised, questioned and undermined. Afterall, Inter are not meant to win and it is our love for the club, colours and players that makes us strong and every victory all the more sweet.