7 December ~ With a third of the Serie A programme played, current world club champions Inter lie in 16th place, just four points above Novara in the first of the relegation spots. They do have a game in hand, but it is at Genoa and will be a difficult one to win. This is their worst start for 65 years. With hindsight, one can see that Inter's decline had already began when they won the Champions League in May of last year. Had it not been for a shock win by Sampdoria in Rome, Roma would probably have won the Serie A title and Inter would have let slip a double-digit lead.
It is likely that José Mourinho left the club after the win over Bayern not just because he wanted to go out at the top, but also because he could see that the changes required to keep Inter there were not likely to be forthcoming. Massimo Moratti no doubt has many good qualities, but ruthlessly dismantling a successful team when it is clearly past its peak is not one of them.
There are also other factors at play here. Even when winning title after title, Inter were rarely spectacular and relied more on muscle than on artistry. Some would say that their win over Barcelona in the 2010 Champions League semi-final was a triumph for anti-football. Inter is also a very anarchic club, and one of Mourinho's achievements was to maintain some kind of harmony in a notoriously clannish dressing room in which, we are told, the two principal groups are the Brazilians and the Argentinians.
The clubs at the very top don't rest on their laurels. Every team needs fresh blood every season, and after a few years at the same club some players need a change of scenery. Had Inter sold the very marketable and unsettled Diego Milito and Maicon in 2010 and invested the money wisely, their domination of Italian football might have continued.
Instead they have bought a series of young, mostly South American, players who have yet to make any impact, with the possible exception of the defender Andrea Ranocchia and striker Giampaolo Pazzini, both, of course, Italian. They also, stupidly, took the unreliable Argentinian Mauro Zárate while allowing their only real attacking star, Samuel Eto'o, to emigrate to Russia. And, apart from his age, signing Diego Forlán without realising that he was ineligible for the Champions League was inexcusably lax.
It would be foolish to suggest that Inter are likely to be relegated for the first time in their history. Nevertheless they are at the moment looking like a poor team that is going nowhere. They should realise that if they want to avoid any risk of the unthinkable happening, they will have to do it themselves, because the days when they could rely on outside help are over. And Moratti should realise, with Claudio Ranieri his fourth coach since Mourinho, that the club's problems will not be solved by continually changing the coaching staff. Geoff Bradford