It was November 2013 when Massimo Moratti sold a controlling stake in Inter Milan to Erick Thohir, yet the Indonesian magnate believes it is only now, 20 months later, that his presidency is finally ready to begin.
“I believe this is the first true season for my team and also for some of the new management” he told Inter’s in-house TV channel. “Over the last couple of days we got to know each other, but it is most important that the team believe in the project”.
The project, according to Thohir, is to restore Inter to the company of Europe’s elite clubs like they were as recently as the latter part of last decade when they won five straight Serie A titles in a period of dominance that culminated with the Champions League of 2010. Jose Mourinho delivered that triumph and his subsequent exit, sensing the end of an era, was the prelude to years of decline as a result of an ageing squad and Moratti’s under-investment.
To kick-start the renaissance, Thohir has turned to the coach that helped to mould the squad that Mourinho led to the brilliant treble of 2010. Roberto Mancini won three Scudettos and two Coppa Italia titles between 2005 and 2008 and now, after winning silverware in England and Turkey, he is back with Inter and tasked with driving Thohir’s rebuilding plans.
Since Thohir dispensed with Walter Mazzarri last November, Mancini has been backed handsomely, being allowed to bring in Xherdan Shaqiri, Davide Santon and Lukas Podolski in January to arrest an underwhelming season in which they sat in 11th place after their first game back from the winter break.
Despite the mid-season renovation, Mancini oversaw some stuttering form in his half-season in charge and Inter finished eighth, meaning no European football for the second time in three years.
Determined to avoid a repeat, Thohir has granted Mancini a transfer kitty in excess of £50 million which has been used to land Joao Miranda from Atletico Madrid, AS Monaco midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia, Jeison Murillo from Granada, Barcelona’s right-back Martin Montoya and Stevan Jovetic from Manchester City.
In exchange for his backing, the president has asked for Mancini to deliver a return to Champions League football. “We must qualify for the Champions League next season because this is the reason why we brought in Mancini in November and some top players in our squad extended their contracts this summer“ said Thohir who has also made Nemanja Vidic, Yuto Nagatomo, Marco Andreolli, Francesco Bardi and Shaqiri, who signed for Inter for €15 million just 6 months ago, available for sale.
In Miranda, who joins initially on loan, Inter will get the assuring presence at the back that Vidic was supposed to provide but failed to do so, while Murillo, the promising 23 year old Colombian centre-half who won the best young player award at this summer’s Copa America, will give competition to Juan Jesus and Andrea Ranocchia.
Meanwhile Montoya, a product of Barcelona’s La Masia academy and winner of three La Liga titles, two Copa Del Reys and a Champions League at the age of 23, will bring his obvious but vastly underused potential to the San Siro, as well as a winning mentality to the problematic position of full-back.
Both Montoya and Miranda join on temporary deals with a view to a permanent move in a clever way to negotiate past restrictions on financial fair play. Both sets of payments will be spread across two years in instalments, and that system of astute accounting, now taking on the moniker of “the Inter Formula”, has freed up funds to be spent on a single marquee signing in the form of Kondogbia who joined for €35 million.
The physical French midfielder, who impressed in his two seasons at Monaco, proving instrumental as they reached the quarter finals of the Champions League in his second season, has been billed by Thohir to have the same influence as Yaya Toure, on whom Mancini built the foundations of his 2012 Premier League title win at Manchester City, who the Nerazzurri tried to sign this summer.
“I believe that Kondogbia can be our Toure and I’m not saying that because Yaya decided against signing for us” said the president.
With the excellent Samir Handanovic retained in goal and a newly bolstered defence given the protection of Kondogbia, the combative Gary Medel and the emerging star Assane Gnoukouri, Inter should manage to reduce the amount of goals they shipped last term-48- the second highest tally in the top 8.
In attack, the arrivals of Jovetic, who struggled for fitness in England but is back in Italy where he thrived for Fiorentina, and Jonathan Biabiany who heads back for a third spell at Inter after his time with the now liquidated Parma, will add incisiveness to a front-line that, without the goals of Mauro Icardi and Rodrigo Palacio last term, lacked a cutting-edge.
Fredy Guarin, who will be looking to build on his six goals from the last campaign, will be given creative duties alongside Hernanes and the talented young Croatian Marcelo Brozovic.
Currently on a pre-season tour of China which is designed to help with Thohir’s vision of getting Inter back into the top 10 of football clubs in terms of revenue in time for 2019, it is telling that the Indonesian’s much vaunted project is not just hot air.
Thohir has rung the changes to his commercial department as the club target fresher revenue streams, he has lobbied the league for changes in kick-off time to suit global audiences and is keen to undertake significant renovation work on their San Siro home when AC Milan move out in 2018.
It is an impressive change to the stasis that Inter were under in the final days of Moratti, but Thohir and Mancini will be aware that success on the pitch is the only way to unlock their off-field ambitions.
“I’m confident of our future and the season ahead. We have players capable of challenging for the title” said Mancini after the pre-season defeat to Real Madrid in Guangzhou, but while they may not yet be ready to end the dominance of Juventus, they could certainly be in a position to deliver the Champions League football Thohir craves for the next stage of his project.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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