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Is Stefano Pioli the right man to improve Inter’s fortunes?

Stefano Pioli faces the tough task of getting a struggling Inter back on track. (Photo: Getty Images)

Stefano Pioli faces the tough task of getting a struggling Inter back on track. (Photo: Getty Images)

In 2010, Inter made history as the first Italian club to win the coveted Treble. Flash-forward six years later and the Nerazzurri are a side in turmoil. Since Jose Mourinho’s departure, they have gone through eight coaches. That number rises to nine if one includes Stefano Vecchi’s brief tenure as an interim boss. With the appointment of ex-Lazio boss Stefano Pioli, Inter are now on their tenth manager – and fourth this season alone.

It goes without saying that Inter have been in rapid decline since 2010. Once mentioned in the same conversation as Europe’s biggest clubs, the Nerazzurri now don’t even garner an afterthought. They have had to sit and watch as Juventus re-established themselves as Italy’s no. 1 team, whilst teams like Roma and Napoli have pipped them to a Champions League berth. Last season they led the way, only to suffer a catastrophic collapse midway through and barely scrape into fourth place.

Domestically and continentally: Inter’s miserable 2016/2017 campaign

And things have gotten worse this time around. Indeed, this season has been nothing short of an exercise in frustration – both domestically and on the continent. Inter started off this term with a new manager on the bench after Roberto Mancini’s resignation. And Frank De Boer’s debut ended in the worst way possible – by suffering a 2-0 loss to Chievo on matchday one. Although they turned things around with three back-to-back wins, including one over reigning champs Juventus, the Nerazzurri were brought back down to earth by losing three on the trot.

In Europe, there was no respite. With Southampton, Israeli outfit Hapoel Be’er Sheva, and Czech champs Viktoria Plzen for company, the Nerazzurri were expected to battle the Saints for top spot. Football indeed is a fickle thing, but no one could have anticipated that they would open proceedings with a 2-0 loss to Hapoel Be’er Sheva – at home. Losing 3-1 to Sparta Prague was even more shocking. With a game against Roma on the horizon, De Boer had done what most managers would do: field a modified squad.

After all, despite their loss on matchday one, Inter were still viewed as the favorites. The Dutch tactician, however, would quickly learn that things are not always what they seem. And by the time he was sacked after less than three months in charge, Inter were on the cusp of being dumped out of Europe and in the bottom half of the Serie A table.

A new coach equals a new beginning for Inter?

Out went De Boer, in came Stefano Pioli. Arguably, this appointment had some scratching their heads. Some felt it reeked of desperation – after all, finding a good coach in the middle of a season certainly is not easy. Finding a good coach who would want to inherit an Inter side who are struggling is another thing entirely. So, with their choices dramatically limited, one can only speculate how the hiring process went, but obviously Inter’s board felt that Stefano Pioli can offer something that other candidates couldn’t.

The question is: Can he? The former center-back, who plied his trade for teams like Parma, Juventus, Fiorentina, and Padova has a long managerial CV. He’s yet to win any silverware, though, but in all fairness he has not exactly managed any of Italy’s bigger teams. That is, until now. In the past ten years, he has also been sacked four times. That is not particularly strange, especially in Italy. And especially given that he had a stint at Palermo, where if one makes it through a whole season, one is a lucky man indeed.

However, his last job saw him sacked by Lazio after losing 4-1 to Roma. That was back in April of this year. The season before that, however, he did guide the Biancocelesti to an impressive third-placed finish, showing that he does have some tactical nous.

So far, Pioli has endured mixed results. An impressive 2-2 draw with AC Milan in the Derby della Madonnina – which saw Inter come from behind to snatch a point – was followed by a frustrating 3-2 defeat to Hapoel Be’er Sheva. That effectively ended their already floundering Europa League campaign. Next up for them will be a big clash with Fiorentina, another side who have struggled in Serie A this term, and they are backed at evens to get the better of their Tuscan opponents.

However, is Pioli the right man to revive Inter? Only time will tell. Still, at this point, the Nerazzurri are out of Europe. The Scudetto is a foregone conclusion. They really have nothing but pride to play for, and perhaps the Coppa Italia could offer some opportunities, but realistically, this looks like it will be another season sans silverware for the club. But in the absence of expectations, a team can flourish. An extreme case would be Leicester City, but Chelsea are another example of that this season.

Inter – and Pioli – could take note of that as they go back to the drawing board for what hopefully will be the start of a good partnership between club and manager.

 

Fri 25 Nov, 2016
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