Rafa Benitez gets the boot and Leonardo, the former manager of AC Milan takes over. Inter have been a shadow of that triple title winning juggernaut under Jose Mourinho. It will be a huge but not an insurmountable challenge to get back into contention – they’re in seventh position and 13 points behind league leading Milan with two games in hand.
Leonardo knows something about picking up from difficult circumstances. He was Carlo Ancelotti’s replacement after the Milan coach left for Chelsea.
The long time assistant was never a favourite of Silvio Berlusconi and had to contend with the loss of Kaka as the Brazilian talisman relocated to Madrid. With the club in financial dire straits, he had to get production from an aging midfield that consisted of Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf, and Ronaldinho. Employing a 4-2-1-3, Milan got some good results in the Serie but against Man Utd were soundly beaten 7-2 on aggregate in the Champions League in the knock out stage. Berlusconi used that humiliating defeat to belittle the coach’s tactics in international forums. The relationship was over in less than a year.
In the interview Leonardo invokes the name of Tele Santana as the coach he admires the most. The legendary Santana introduced the world to the sublimely creative Brazilian teams of the 1982 and 1986 World Cup. Which is what Inter needs. They’ve looked pedestrian on attack with Wesley Sneijder a pale shadow of himself and Samuel Eto’o playing lone ranger. Injuries to standouts like Julio Cesar, Walter Samuel, and Diego Milito have not helped matters. In the wings and in need of further nurturing are talents like Phillipe Coutinho and Jonathan Biabiany.
It was interesting to note that Leonardo also called up Mourinho:
“Mourinho has been fantastic with me. I called him because it would be impossible to join Inter without going through Jose. He’s everywhere here. We discussed many topics and I trust his opinion on many issues. I think he is one of the best, from press conferences to his brilliant strategy and his outstanding work on the pitch. I realize I’m not Mou and have been a coach for only one year, with some mistakes and some good things.”
He also understands that his appointment is not been taken lightly by the Milan tifosi and by his proteges like Alexander Pato. They’re already hurling the traitor epithet at him. It will be a huge day when he comes face to face with his former club on April 3rd but before that Leonardo’s hope will be that some parity in the standings is restored. He has his first big challenge on January 6th when they meet second placed Napoli at the Giuseppe Meazza.