24 September ~ After Internazionale feebly and deservedly succumbed to their fourth competitive defeat of the season at promoted Novara on Tuesday evening, it was little surprise that the axe fell quickly on beleaguered coach Gian Piero Gasperini. He had not been first choice for the job, he puzzled unsuccessfully about how to squeeze the square pegs of an ageing and tired-looking squad into the round holes of his preferred 3-4-3 formation, and he had given the general impression in media dealings that he was living on borrowed time from day one anyway.
So Inter implode once more and face another lost season rebuilding under a new coach, or probably several. Once again the unflattering glare of attention turns on club president Massimo Moratti and his coterie of advisers who must answer for their unerringly consistent executive incompetence.
Little appears to have been learned at board level from the treble season under José Mourinho. He bullied his way to unprecedented control over the club during his two-year tenure and it yielded remarkable results. His astute second season signings allowed him to construct a team capable of briefly matching the physical and technical intensity of the best in Europe. Moratti had matched his father's achievement in winning the European Cup but really his only role in this particular victory was as the guy who signed the cheques.
This was no coincidence. With Mourinho having de facto control of team affairs it was easy to forget for a couple of seasons how lacking in vision, focus and competence Moratti and his cohorts have been during his 16 years in charge. The cunning acquisition of Ronaldo from Barcelona in 1997 and Mourinho are the only major coups that Moratti can claim during his presidency. The Mourinho appointment itself hardly demonstrated much in the way of lateral thinking – he was already successful, he was available, he wanted to manage in Italy and he could be offered the highest managerial salary in the world to sweeten the deal. It was hardly a visionary move to compare with AC Milan plucking a little known Arrigo Sacchi from Serie B obscurity, for example. So when Mourinho moved to Spain, Moratti felt compelled to wrestle back control of the day-to-day decision making once more and quickly Inter lapsed back into an unfocused mess, their default setting.
Gasperini was the third manager in 16 months to try to create some order before failing miserably. A decent man who arrived with a glowing reference from Mourinho himself, it was hard to see any possible route to success open to him. As much as his bold formational choices were criticised, it was unclear what formation could work with a team incapable of getting forward quickly enough. Novara were typical of their opponents this season, comfortably able to get plenty of men back behind the ball when Inter had possession and capable of hurting the sluggish opponents on the break with nothing more complex than pace and direct running.
Samuel Eto'o papered over a lot of cracks last season but with his departure to Russia any vestiges of pace went with him. Speed should have been an essential component of any replacement signing, but true to form in came Diego Forlán, a veteran of economical pace and movement, and Mauro Zárate, who barely moves at all. Incredibly, Forlán was signed with no one at Inter aware that he would be cup tied for the Champions League.
And so the circle turns. Claudio Ranieri has already been installed as the next stop-gap solution and he will no doubt trot out the usual platitudes about restoring Inter to Serie A and Champions League pre-eminence. He'll have to overcome more than Napoli, Milan, Juventus and Barcelona though. His biggest hazard will be his own well-meaning president who, in just 16 months, has inadvertently transformed Inter from European champions to bumbling, chaotic strugglers who conform to all the negative stereotypes foreigners associate with Italian football. Craig McCracken