May 22, 2010 goes down in history as one of the great nights in Inter histoty. On a beautiful night in the Santiago Bernabéu, Inter were kings of Europe after two goals from Diego Milito saw Inter beat Bayern Munich 2-0 to win the Champions League.
Little did we know that Inter’s decline into mid-table mediocrity would begin that night. Jose Mourinho left for the bright lights of Real Madrid and in the subsequent six years, Inter have had 8 managers. Inter have now gone five years without a trophy, an eternity for one of Europe’s biggest clubs.
So where did it all go wrong for Inter?
Inter’s Champions League-winning squad of 2010 had seasoned thirty somethings like Javier Zanetti, Francesco Toldo, Marco Materazzi, Lucio, Walter Samuel, Dejan Stankovic, Ivan Cordoba and Diego Milito as key influences. Between them they had more than 4,000 games’ experience.
Succession planning is important at every club but even more so at elite ones who triumph with the high wire act of winning things with a group of old players.
In the summer of 2010 Inter banked the compensation from Real Madrid for Jose Mourinho, appointed Rafa Benitez, sold Mario Balotelli to Manchester City for €30m, bought a reserve goalkeeper and tinkered around on the peripheries with co-ownership deals.
When, five days after winning the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi in December 2010, Rafa Benitez asked for significant investment in the squad during the forthcoming transfer window, as he knew that his aging squad needed to be upgraded. The club disagreed and Rafa left ‘by mutual consent’.
In came Leonardo, the former Milan manager, who won the Coppa Italia but left in the summer following a dispute over investment. By the end of 2009, Massimo Moratti had funded a transfer trading deficit over the 14 years of his ownership to the tune of €356m. But in 2011 Financial Fair Play began to bite for the first time and a club as heavily subsidized as Inter had been faced sanctions from Uefa if they continued to live beyond their means.
Total losses from 1995-2011 topped €1bn. Such largesse had allowed Moratti in 2010 to emulate his father Angelo’s presidency by winning the European Cup, but with the new restrictions he could no longer throw hundreds of millions of dollars into the club if Inter were going to break even as stipulated by 2014.
The problem was, there was nothing to compensate for the money he ploughed in from the profits he made in the oil business. As tenants of San Siro, Inter’s match-day proceeds were quarter of the big European clubs like Manchester United’s and the Premier League’s TV deal was more than double Serie A’s and about to mushroom again.
While Inter could match English and Spanish clubs for sponsorship deals, their resources were dwarfed by their competitors’ revenues. Compare three oil-funded clubs, Inter, Manchester City and Chelsea, and it’s the latter two who now have the subsidiary income after enormous initial investment that largely funds their running costs.
So, from Balotelli’s move to City onwards, Inter largely became a selling club. Samuel Eto’o left in 2011, Goran Pandev in 2012, Wesley Sneijder and Philippe Coutinho in 2013. In November 2013 after a botched sale of a majority stake to Kenneth Huang, Moratti sold 70 per cent to Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir who pledged to stabilise the finances and rebuild the club as a self-sufficient business.
Before appointing Roberto Mancini in 2004, Moratti had appointed 13 managers in nine years and in the four years after Mourinho left in 2010, he went through Benitez, Leonardo, Gian Piero Gasperini, Claudio Ranieri, Andrea Stramaccioni and Walter Mazzari.
Thohir re-hired Mancini in late 2014 and allowed him to reinvest about half the receipts for Fredy Guarin, Mateo Kovacic, Hernanes and Xherdan Shaqiri the following summer but they faded after a promising start and finished fourth, 24 points behind Juventus.
In June Suning Holding Group bought out Thohir and Moratti. For the first time in seven years, Inter paid out more than they recouped, including €45m for Joao Maria, but Mancini was sacked after poor pre-season results and replaced by Frank De Boer 13 days before the start of Serie A. Financial stability may have been achieved at last but it is yet to cure the other infected parts of a severely debilitated club.
The way forward for Inter is stability and increased revenues. CEO Michael Bolingbroke has already said that Inter should pass the €200m revenue barrier this year, due in part to increased sponsorship from Asia.
Suning has already made the decision to stay at the San Siro, a short-sighted move that will continue to see Inter (and AC Milan) lag behind its rivals in matchday revenues.
But more than anything the club needs stability. The revolving door of managers has to stop. If the plan is to get Diego Simeone in 2018, then why spin through two or three managers between now and then. Stick with de Boer and let him bring some of the youth players into the first team.