By Kevin Koczwara
Inter Milan sacked Rafa Benitez and hired a manager who use to play, scout and manager its fiercest rival, AC Milan. Leonardo was unveiled last week as Inter’s manager, despite being a feared and hated rival during his playing days with the Rossoneri.
Leonardo left his post as AC Milan’s manager in May. He was unable to impress Milan’s owners during his first season as the club’s manager. Oddly enough, after 13 years with Milan, the Brazilian takes over an Inter Milan side 13 points behind his former club in the table. Inter does have two games in hand, but the team will have to work hard the second half of the season to claim its seventh straight Serie A title.
“I still believe in the scudetto. I know 13 points is a lot but the championship still has a long way to run,” said Leonardo. The 41-year old wan unable to lead AC Milan to a title last season, but he did secure a third-place with an aging squad and limited resources.
Now, it looks like Leonardo will be able to make some moves as soon as he takes the helm and gets a grip on the Inter squad, something Benitez was not allowed to do when he arrived after being sacked by Liverpool in the summer.
“Whether a signing will be actioned or not remains to be seen, but we will certainly be careful, and with the help of [director] Marco Branca, we will make sure that those transfers happen, be it players joining or leaving,” Inter Milan President Marco Moratti told Sky Sports.
If Morrati should sanction transfer funds in January for Leonardo, he will be taking a different approach from his handling with Benitez, something that needs to happen before the Nerazzurri fall further behind in the standings.
Leonardo inherits a deep squad, but one low on morale at the time. Benitez’ reign at the club seemed to take the air out of last year’s successful team. Leonardo will need to fill the balloon again with the confidence Benitez sucked out.
Benitez’s tactics didn’t fit at Inter and his relationships with the players never clicked. He kept trying to distance himself from the club’s former manager, Jose Mourinho, by barbing and jabbing at the “Special One.” That wasn’t a good way to start things off. He needed to go into the San Siro and lay his claim by motivating and winning. Too many draws and not enough goals set Inter Milan behind early. Now, it is Leonardo’s turn to try and right the ship, otherwise, this will be one of the most disappointing seasons the Nerazzurri fans have endured in a long time.
Keys to Leonardo’s Success
One thing Mourinho was able to do that Benitez struggled with, employing the many different strikers at his disposal and making them successful.
With Diego Militio, Inter Milan get the perfect counter-attacking center-forward. He isn’t lightning quick, or tricky on the ball, but Militio makes up for all that with world-class timing and positional play. Oh, he isn’t as bad finisher either.
With Goran Pandev, Leonardo has an industrious worker who can drop back into the defense, a-la Carlos Tevez. Pandev will want his fair share of goal opportunities, but he gives Milan an outside forward who will work his way back and win the ball in the defensive third. He can pass well and work as a central player tool. Leonardo needs to keep Pandev and Samuel Eto’o happy if he employs them on the wings. To do this, Inter Milan needs to be winning and the two need to get their fair chances at goal. Strikers make money for scoring, and that’s what these guys want to do.
The most important player for Milan is Wesley Sneijder. There is no doubt about it. If Leonardo can get the best from the Dutchman, like Mourinho did, then his time in charge of Inter should go smoothly. Sneijder is the linchpin in the attack. He turns defense into offense with one pass. He opens the whole game up from the center of the midfield.
What makes Leonardo’s job easier from a manager’s perspective is that he can call on Dejan Stankovi? to come into the fray to help or replace Sneijder when the time calls for it.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.