Will We See The Return of La Grande Inter?

Forty-five years of unbearable anguish.

That was the time some lifelong El Nerrazurri fans waited for an incredible Champions League triumph over the might Bayern München in Madrid on the night of Saturday May 22, 2010.

Diego Milito’s brace that night gave Internazionale their first win in Europe’s most prestigious competition since the club’s historic back-to-back victories in 1963 and 1964, with Giacinto Facchetti and Sandro Mazzolla gracing the San Siro pitch under the watchful eye of Helenio Herrera, the man who transformed Inter.

Jose Mourinho became only the third man, after Ernst Happel and Ottmar Hitzfeld to win the trophy with two different clubs after his success with FC Porto in 2004, in what concluded a treble winning season. They became only the sixth team in history to win the Treble of league, cup and European Cup, the first Italian club to achieve the feat.

Inter fans amid incredible scenes in the Piazza Duomo, Milan

However, Mourinho soon left the club for the heavy heights of Real Madrid, with Rafa Benitez taking over. There were rumblings within Milan that the prosperity the team had just enjoyed was about to end.

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Forward to February 2014, and Walter Mazzarri was the sixth coach to lose his job following Mourinho’s successes.

Samuel Eto’o, Lucio, Wesley Sneijder, Marco Materazzi. Just some of the names that were part of a crowd, rushing to exit the San Siro after Mourinho’s departure.

Claudio Ranieri barely attempted to convince Thiago Motta not to join Paris Saint Germain in 2012, before instrumental midfield lynchpin Esteban Cambiasso left the destruction in Milan for Leicester City in 2014.

Many point to Massimo Moratti as the villain in this ugly pantomine. Having spent over £700m to achieve the dream of bringing the Champions League trophy back to the San Siro, Morratti let loose, allowing his club to drift aimlessly.

The controversial owner then sold a seventy percent stake for €250m to Erick Thohir, yet the club still recorded losses of over €180m in the summer of last year, having to secure a €230m loan using underlying assets.

The future looked bleak, until Roberto Mancini stepped in.

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The sheer volume of managers at Inter Milan in those four years since Madrid had disrupted any hope of consistency or success in Milan. The squad under Mazzarri lacked any real definition or style; to reuse a tired cliche ‘there is eleven men on the pitch, not a team’.

After a relatively successful time at Manchester City in the league, Mancini set about introducing his own tactics on the team. Mark his stamp on the team, if you will.

January saw the signings of Xherdan Shaqiri and Lukas Podolski to add depth to the squad, and despite failing to qualify for a European spot, a promising second half of the season gave the club a foundation to work from.

Summer Transfers

Mancini clearly had the support of owner Erick Thohir, but to his credit his performed admirably in the market. Defensively last season, Inter were a calamity, and if not for star goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, it is undoubted the goals would have been breached more than the already disappointing forty-eight times. A monumental amount of work was needed after an eighth place finish in 2014/15.

Yuga Nagatomo, captain Andrea Ranocchia and Nemanja Vidic all had their fair share of errors, and it is defensive recruitments that Mancini has added, and rightly so. Martin Montoya has been signed from Barcelona, but a particularly impressive augmentation to the squad has been Atletico Madrid’s Miranda, a stronghold in Diego Simeone’s defence.

Jeison Murillo also joins from Granada having initially agreed the deal in February. The 23-year-old centre-back greatly impressed in the Copa America, as does Jonathan Biabiany.

Elsewhere, El Nerazurri showed the rest of Serie A that they meant business with the €40m capture of AS Monaco’s Geoffrey Kondogbia. Highly sought after, the Frenchman initially entered the world stage after a string of impressive performances in the U20 World Cup, which France won, alongside Paul Pogba in 2013.

Stevan Jovetic signs on loan with a view to a permanent move after fluctuating form for Manchester City, but Inter’s biggest achievement of the summer is surely warding off interest in their star striker Mauro Icardi, who won the  Capocannoniere with Luca Toni, scoring twenty-two goals.

Icardi became the youngest ever player to win it since Paolo Rossi, who was twenty-one in 1978, and was a potent threat in front of goal. The Argentinian will be key in a push to break back into the top three places.

The loss of Mateo Kovacic for €32m to Real Madrid was inevitable. Of course, the Croat is a fine player, but still has work to do, and the transfer fee pays for eighty percent of Kondogbia’s move. Mancini also highlighted that ‘we need to sell Mateo because of Financial Fair Play.’

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Ahead of the season, this seems likely to be the best eleven for Roberto Mancini to choose ahead of the opener against Atalanta.

Samir Handanovic is the obvious choice in goal, with Juan Jesus and Montoya as the full-backs. It would be wise to not play Rannochia amongst strong interest from Everton, with Jeison Muirillo and Miranda set to make their Serie A debuts for the club.

Gary Medel should take the deep lying midfielder position, with Kondogbia and Brozovic slightly ahead. It has been suggested that Hernanes could flourish in the ‘trequartista’ position, with Jovetic playing off Icardi up front.

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Unfortunately, finances are still causing the club trouble. After breaking FFP rules, a fine of six million was issued, with the threat that a further fourteen million would leave the accounts should Inter not adhere to the rules. Their Europa League squad has also been trimmed to 21, which will rise to 21 pending on conditions the following season.

With plans for AC Milan to move into a new stadium, the planned renovation of San Siro will bring extra revenue for Inter. This, alongside Mancini’s shrewd signings, could signal a return of La Grande Inter in Italy and Europe.

In Profile: Matteo Darmian

Manchester United are set to announce their second move of the summer in the form of Italian full-back Matteo Darmian in a £14.3m move after Torino coach Giampiero Ventura admitted that a move is imminent.

 “It’s true, Darmian will play in the Champions League with Manchester United,” the coach told Sky Sport Italia.

“Matteo deserves a top team and always dreamed of playing in the Champions League so now that dream will be realised.

It looks to be a good move for both the club and the player, who initially showcased his talent to the world for Italy in the 2014 World Cup, where he impressed against England in a 2-1 win.

Here’s all you need to know about the 25-year-old.

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The Beginning

His love affair with football began quite young, encouraged by his father Giovani who was one of the coaches for Oratorio, an association representing the best talent in Lombardy. His first opportunity to thrive came thanks to Beniamino Abate, a scout for Italian giants AC Milan, who noticed Darmian’s ability and invited him to play for the Milanese outfit.

After spending the early 2000s in Milan’s youth academy, he made his first-team debut for the Rossoneriin 2006, making an appearance as a substitute in the Coppa Italia. His Serie A emergence did not occur until the following year, deep into the season, again as a substitute in a 3-2 win over Udinese.

The 2007/08 season saw Darmian preview his ability to be the leader on and off the pitch after being appointed captain of the club’s Primavera. Unfortunately, with such quality around him Darmian was unable to break through into the first team, making just one more appearance for the club in the Coppa Italia.

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Loan To Padova & Move To Palermo

His move to Serie B club Padova was a step-down for the heavy heights at Milan, as despite the deal only being temporary it seemed likely Darmian would not be staying at the San Siro. In his first real taste of continuous professional football, he made twenty appearances and helped his interim club avoid relegation due to a play-off win over Trestina.

His impressive performances earned him a move to Palermo,  which saw the Sicilian club buy Darmian in co-ownership with Milan in an €800,000 move. His debut came in a 3-1 win over Juventus in a two-year spell, but it was not until he was loaned to Torino before any progress was really made.

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The Torino Years

Toro signed Darmian, initially on loan, in July, 2011 following the renewal of the co-ownership agreement between Palermo and Milan, before buying Palermo’s half of Darmian’s services for €825,000 after the full-back had made thirty-three appearances in Serie B and had been pivotal in the club’s promotion.

Following that successful campaign, Darmian made another thirty appearances in Serie A as the club survived it’s return to the top-flight, but it was the 2013/14 campaign that proved to be pivotal to the reasoning behind his World Cup selection.

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matteo-darmian-torino

The Breakthrough Campaign

Despite the prominence of stars Ciro Immobile and Alessio Cerci in Torino’s 2013/14 team, coach Giampiero Ventura believed in a strong base, with a reliance on his team’s full-backs, in a 3-5-2 where Darmian thrived, with an 83% pass accuracy with over half his aerial duels won, despite not being one of the tallest defenders in the division at 5ft. 11in.

His ability to contribute at both ends of the pitch impressed many, not least Italy manager Cesare Prandelli, who decided to select the previously uncapped Darmian in his World Cup squad.

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The World Cup

It was sink or swim on such a big stage, but Darmian was one of the few Italians who could return home after failing to qualify for the knock-out stages with his head held high after being outstanding against England in Manaus, and impressing against Costa Rica and Uruguay.

“If you’d told me eight months ago that I’d be playing in the World Cup, I would have burst out laughing,” he commented afterwards.

“It was a childhood dream, but honestly I didn’t think I’d get here.”

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After another stellar campaign in 2014/15, it was no surprise to see that Europe’s best came not only to knock, but to barge down Torino’s door to acquire Darmian’s services.

So, why was Louis van Gaal so keen to sign him?

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Strengths

His versatility is undoubtedly Darmian’s most outstanding trait. Able to perform exceptionally in both full-back positions in a 3-5-2, a formation favoured by Manchester United manager Van Gaal during parts of last season, the 25-year-old can also operate in the centre of the defence if the situation arises where that role needs to be deputised.

What can never be disputed as well would be the consistency a player like Darmian will provide. Consistency in such a position is a privilege given the calamitous full-backs that have “graced” the Premier League, but Van Gaal and those in the stands at Old Trafford should be more than happy with the Italian’s performance and work-rate throughout ninety minutes.

His 39 chances created betters that of United’s full-back Antonio Valencia, who only managed 26, whilst he also bettered the Ecuadorian on the number of key chances created, with 38 compared to 24 in Darmian’s favour. That total was also the third highest of any defender in Serie A last season, behind Danilo Fernando Avelar (44) and Edenilson (44).

Is there any faults to his game? Well, no one is perfect.

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Weaknesses

Despite his ability on the ball, Darmian could improve on the tally of his assists. His measly two assists should be improved with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Memphis Depay to convert the chances he creates.

This looks set to be a very astute signing by Manchester United in a move that will aid Van Gaal immensely, who signs the full-back at a prime age off the back of two very successful seasons in Italy.

Champions League Part 1: Who’s going where?

With the Champions League play-off round approaching next month, fans of participating clubs would be forgiven for being wrapped up in the affairs of their beloved side, but with Europe’s best facing off, it’s always an advantage to find out what player has picked up his bags and left for another country before you can’t find him for half an hour on your television.

With that being said, the best have been busy, or at least have tried to be, in the market in the search to improve their squads.

Here’s a list of the best moves this summer, and the one’s we’re waiting on the edge of our seats on.

Douglas Costa, Shaktar to Bayern

It’s not often a player attracts the attention of the opposition club after he’s on the losing side of a 7-0 rout but Douglas Costa impressed enough in Shaktar’s last 16 tie with Bayern, so much so that the Bavarians forked out over €30 million to secure his services.

With the ability to play on either flank, Costa is nimble, intelligent on the ball and has a wicked left foot, as you can see below. A very dangerous player who will be sure to strengthen the German side even further, all at the age of 24.

Yehven Konoplyanka, Dnipro to Sevilla

This transfer will probably hurt Brendan Rodgers but Unai Emery was patient in his chase of the Ukrainian and looks to have finally got his man after Sevilla’s website reported that reached “reached an agreement with the Ukrainian international Yevhen Konoplyanka, at the expense of passing the medical examination and that the final agreement with the Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk is closed”.

Despite the fact Konoplyanka was out of contract at Dnipro, an agreement had been made that the club would receive a fee when the 25-year-old did move on. Liverpool, Tottenham and West Ham all had approaches turned down by the Europa League finalists, but after catching the eye in the international between England and Ukraine, Konoplyanka has been remarkable on his side’s adventure in Europe, and was outstanding in the final where he and his team-mates lost out to his new side. His speed, awareness and ability to draw fouls are some of his best assets.

Paulo Dybala, Palermo to Juve

There was a lot of rumours surrounding Dybala’s future but there’s no doubt he had a fantastic season, and was always quite impressive in his partnership with Ernesto Vazquez, who certainly deserves some plaudits for his performances. However, Dybala is one of the most exciting players in Europe at the moment. Palermo knew his potential when they paid a hefty €12m to sign the then 18-year-old, and the Old Lady are very much aware of his budding superstar status, transferring €32m into Palermo’s bank account.

He is ice cool, with a bag hidden full of tricks. A quality acquisition. His only weaknesses may arise from his small stature, but his left foot usually silences most critics. 13 goals and 10 assists for a team that finished in mid-table is no mean feat.

Luciano Vietto, Villareal to Atletico

Argentina seem to have an endless supply of attacking talent, and Vietto is no exception. He didn’t come cheap, at €20.9m, but he won’t be arriving at the Vicente Calderon to warm the bench whilst he watches Jackson Martinez have all the fun. Like Dybala, Vietto could be compared to Atletico winger Antoine Griezmann- both are quite light weighted, quick and left-footed, but this shouldn’t mean that one should miss out on a spot in the starting XI. Most likely, Vietto will continue up front either in a 4-4-2 with Martinez, or in a 4-3-3, where Vietto could play on either side of Martinez out wider. He is simply a pain in the backside for defenders. A master of perfecting a counter-attack, quick and a potent finisher. Vietto already has experience in Europe with Villareal in the Europa League.

Max Kruse, Borussia Mönchengladbach to Wolfsburg

Kruse’s rise is a meteoric one. Playing for St Pauli in 2012, he will now be one of Wolfsburg’s most threatening attackers. His time at ‘Gladbach developed him a great deal under Lucien Favre, where he transitioned from an attacking midfielder at SC Freiburg to a forward with the ability to drop back and link up with the play. His partnership with Raffael at Borussia Park was one to behold, and eleven goals and nine assists in a team where there the goals were shared quite evenly between Patrick Herrmann, Kruse and Raffael is quite impressive. Shouldn’t have any issues in beating off competition from Nicklas Bendter to partner Bas Dost but it will be interesting to see what formation Dieter Hecking will opt for.

Part Two to come soon.