It is the stuff dreams are made of for a striker making his debut. Having been obliterated in the first half by a fine, cutting edge Palermo side in the first half who were two goals to the good, Inter and coach Leonardo were forced to make some inspirational changes. Gianpaolo Pazzini ‘Il Pazzo’ – the crazy one – enlightened the baying Interistas with a crazy second half, replacing the talented Brazilian youngster Phillipe Coutinho, scoring twice and winning the penalty which secured the three points which keeps Inter in the top four.
The honeymoon period was over last week for Leonardo when Inter deservedly felt the wrath of one of the most exciting teams in the country – Udinese – who’s dazzling, attacking football mixed with a fine tactical display left the Brazilian coach bemused by the team’s shortcomings. One thing Leonardo is, is that he is a fine motivational coach and very personable with his players; a blend of the fine qualities of José Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti whom Leonardo has openly admired. Indeed, Mourinho continues to text Leonardo despite last season being in opposite dugouts.
However, his tactical ability made some in the Italian press question his worth. In the game against Udinese, Leonardo did not adjust the narrow system which he deployed which gave the Zebrette the initiative to attack continuously down the wide areas. Gazetta claimed while Leonardo is probably more suited to this current crop of players, he lacks in what former boss Rafael Benitez exuded from every orifice – tactical know-how.
Certainly Leonardo proved the point about his motivational skill as the players, especially Pazzini, looked determined to right those wrongs from the first half. It could have been horribly wrong too, as Javier Pastore had his penalty saved by Julio Cesar and also hit the woodwork which could have succumbed Leonardo to his second consecutive league game.
Leonardo’s confession of the game being ‘crazy’ could not be closer to the truth.
The final nail in the Benitez coffin was his ‘back me or sack me’ outburst following the World Club Championship victory in Qatar. The press conference was used as an opportunity for Benitez to politically get the fans and press understand that the squad needs refreshing and change. According to research, Inter have the oldest side in Europe with an average age of just under 30. Either the research or Benitez’s words were highlighted and brought to president Massimo Moratti who has decided to take some action, in the form of signings Andrea Ranocchia, Pazzini, Yuto Nagatomo and Houssine Kharja (though he’s 28).
The signings have come half a season too late but it does illustrate that Moratti is still interested in the progression of the club. Ranocchia is the great hope for Italy – being described as the next Franco Baresi – he is undoubtedly one who will look to oust either Marco Materazzi, who has been wavering and Lucio, who are both over 30 whilst Walter Samuel is out for the rest of the season.
Pazzini brings exuberance and enthusiasm which Diego Milito hasn’t really shown this season. Pazzini has youth on his side compared to both Milito and Samuel Eto’o and will provide Inter with some striking depth and an opportunity to rotate in the final third. The move sees the promising Jonathan Biabiany head in the opposite direction to Sampdoria for a charitable €7m.
Nagatomo has been one of the stand out performers for Cesena, who are currently languishing in the danger zone. Strong, athletic and technically well adept, the Japanese defender was one of the stand out performers in the Asia Cup over the past couple of weeks. The move also sees youngster Davide Santon head in the other direction, which should prove to be a smart move for the six months as Santon needs games to develop his stalling career. A few years ago, he was described as the next Paolo Maldini yet the performance against Palermo would suggest otherwise.
The start of the new calender year has seen Inter make changes to manager and playing staff. Will it be enough to mount a title challenge against their fierce neighbours who are ten points ahead at the summit of the league?