The Usual Suspects: A Resumption Of Hostilities
Saturday, 1 September 2007
Season 2007-2008 stands to be one of the most hotly contested Serie A campaigns in recent memory: Inter, Milan and Roma will start as the leagueís major protagonists and a determined Juventus outfit, aiming to reclaim their mantle will make very dangerous opponents. Also, the likes of Fiorentina, Palermo and Napoli will be difficult destinations to travel and win three points.
This season, every team will start on an equal footing. Despite breaking countless records last season, early signs from pre-season friendlies, the Italian Super Cup and Interís first match of the season, are that Inter may struggle to successfully defend last seasonís championship.
By confirming last seasonís squad and acquiring Suazo, Chivu, Rivas, Jimenez, Alfonso and Pele, Interís management confirmed their satisfaction with the work and achievements of last season. But the question that needs to be asked is whether the clubís management erred in its summer transfer dealings by overestimating the achievements of last season and underestimating the task that lies ahead for season 2007-2008.
The news that Figo was staying to play another season at Inter rather than move to Al-Ittihiad in Saudi Arabia was greeted as if the club had made the greatest coup of the summer transfer market. The news was welcomed and celebrated by the clubís management, supporters and Luisí teammates who were the main benefactors of last seasonís fine form.
Some commentators questioned Interís decision to keep Figo for another season citing his lack of pace and the likelihood that he may be more frequently utilized from the bench than as a regular starter.
Throughout his career, Figo has proved that he is more than willing to take responsibility in his stride and not shy away from a challenge. Ultimately, with the likes of Maldini and the now retired Costacurta playing into their late 30s, age is not a hurdle and there is no substitute for the experience, class and quality that Figo brings to the team.
Figo led in assists last season which meant that a replacement would be very difficult to find. It is well known that he is a consummate professional and he would not have lightly made the decision to play for another season. Figo is not in the squad to simply make up the numbers and it will not come as a surprise if he manages to prove his doubters wrong and have another memorable season.
The Suazo Affect: Recoba and Adriano
Over the past two seasons at Cagliari, Suazo established himself as a regular goalscorer. His ability to find the net is even more impressive when one considers that Cagliari were battling against relegation and did not have established star players to provide Suazo with the necessary service.
Without realising, Suazoís arrival may be a blessing in disguise as it has forced questions to be asked about the futures of Recoba and Adriano. With the two aforementioned players as well as Zlatan, Crespo, and Suazo it goes without saying that there will be great competition amongst the strikers to establish themselves in the starting eleven this season.
Despite having tremendous talent and ability, Recoba has been too content with being a substitute and Morattiís favourite player. In his defence, injuries have plagued his career but Suazoís arrival hastened his imminent departure with a loan to Torino being arranged on the final day of the transfer market.
For the first time in his Inter career, Adriano has become a peripheral figure in the clubís plans. Over the course of last season his professionalism was called into question as a result of his preference for nightclubs and alcohol. Interís management have been nothing but patient with him and Suazoís arrival will have one of either two affects: (1) cause Adriano to focus on football and fight for his place in the first team; or (2) lead to a hasty January departure.
Unfortunately, at this point in time, the latter scenario looks more likely given that Adriano has been omitted from the squad to face Empoli and Mancini has stated that the player may not be registered for the Champions League and has to take steps to help himself rather than placing the onus on the club.
Much has been said and written about whether Chivuís acquisition from Roma was necessary. Some commentators believe that given the strength of last seasonís defence and the amount of money that Inter had to pay for his services, Chivu was an unnecessary luxury addition and no defensive reinforcements were required.
Others believe that Chivu provides Mancini with a number of options as he is versatile and can play in the middle of defence and at left back. Unlike his fellow Inter defenders, Chivu is the only defender who is highly skilled and has an element of elegance to his game, not to mention the fact that he will provide an extra option when it comes to taking set pieces.
Given the serious nature and length of Materazziís injury and Burdisso being behind in his preparations for the season as a result of the Copa America, Chivu was a shrewd acquisition. His importance to the team will be highlighted when Interís Champions League campaign starts in Turkey against Fenerbache on the 19 September 2007 as Cordoba and Burdisso will be suspended and Materazzi will be out due to injury.
Chivu will also be a valuable asset in Serie A and the Coppa Italia in the left back position if Maxwell continues to concede too much space to his opponents or struggles with injury or fitness.
Rivas, Jimenez, Alfonso and Pele
It may be a harsh analysis but realistically, barring any major surprises, Rivas and Jimenez will be squad players that will substitute for Maicon and Figo respectively. Given the suspensions in defence, Rivas may get playing time in the Champions League but it is unlikely that he will establish himself as a starter whilst the likes of Alfonso and Pele seem to have been purchased with a firm eye on the future. Given their young age, expectations should not be too high and it is unlikely they will get much playing time in a season when the pressure is on Inter to defend last yearís championship.
In light of the above transfers, Interís management has placed too much emphasis on the achievements of last season and underestimated the required depth necessary for a successful defence of the championship. Simultaneously, there has been a failure to learn from the past two seasons and acknowledge that the club has not had the necessary depth to make a sustained assault in the Champions League.
Although Chivu was needed to reinforce the teamís defence and Suazo was needed to provide the team with fit and alternative strike options to Recoba and Adriano, it appears the teamís frailties in midfield have conveniently overlooked.
Vieira has been struggling with injury since last season. He has made two comebacks and broken down on both occasions. There was great optimism regarding his recovery but the fact that he suffered a reoccurrence of the same injury has jeopardized the possibility of a good start to the season. When combining Vieiraís injury with Cambiassoís late return and under preparedness for the start of the season, Inter only have Dacourt and a young and inexperienced Pele for the defensive midfield position.
At the beginning of a season when the players should be injury free and close to full strength, Inter are essentially where they left off last season, without adequate backup for Vieira and Cambiasso and lacking a creative midfield player.
Although many Interisti were appreciative of the fact that Materazzi took a stand against the possible arrival of Emerson and respected the fact that the club did not pursue the transfer, it goes without saying that Emerson or a player of his calibre would have been an ideal addition to the squad.
The club has already reached its threshold when it comes to the number of former Juventus players on the books but from a team personnel perspective, the fact remains that Inter do not have adequate cover for Vieira and Cambiasso in the likelihood either player gets injured or suspended. In the course of a long season this could detrimentally affect Interís ability to defend the championship and be a serious contender in the Champions League as the club will have to improvise in a similar fashion to last season when Burdisso played out of position at the end of the season.
What Lies Ahead?
Given Interís performance against Roma in the Italian Super Cup and the teamís first league encounter against Udinese, early signs are that Inter are in for a real fight this season.
In order to prove that last season was no fluke and that results obtained were not simply down to Juventusí absence and points penalties against our closest rivals, every player will need to make a contribution to help the club successfully defend and retain the Scudetto. Psychological battles against Juventus and Milan will be as important as the physical battles and struggles that take place on the pitch. But what we must keep in mind, the players included, is that no opposition should be underestimated. Once again, Inter have it all to prove. The teamís next chance will be against Empoli this evening. Hopefully our Nerazzurri will not disappoint.