Can Inter Milan upset Juventus and win their first Serie A title in 10 years?

No Inter Milan fan even in their worst nightmares could have predicted the fall of the club after Jose Mourinho upped his sticks and left the club in the summer of 2010 for Real Madrid. Now they are dreaming again almost a decade later.

Back in 2010 Inter under Mourinho’s infamous dogs of war and arguably his most successful period as a football coach not only won the league title but also completed for the first time in Italian football history the triple. That is the league title (Scudetto), the Italian cup and the creme of them all the Champions League. Indeed it was Inter’s first triumph in Europe since 1965. It all felt like a dream, but it was reality. Not only were Inter the champions of Italy but the champions of Europe.

Inter had finally stepped out of AC Milan and Juventus’ shadow as a club to be reckoned with and then Mourinho left and rather quickly Inter’s fortunes disappeared. It was as if by reaching the top of the mountain the only way was down. To add salt into the wounds Milan their eternal nemesis would win the league the following the year.

Since then countless coaches have come and gone and whilst Inter have always been there and thereabouts they have never looked like recapturing that glory at least domestically until this season. It has been a decade dominated by Juventus and their 8 in a row titles.

This season Inter have started superbly, losing just one game so far in Serie A inevitably to Juventus and the grand old lady remain their biggest obstacle to picking up their first title in what will be 10 years. But can Inter do it?

With the international break upon us Inter are just one point behind Juventus with 31 and that has been achieved out of a maximum points total of 36. In short in most seasons Inter would be in 1st place with a healthy lead. But there looms always the threat of Juventus.

Inter have a 7 point lead over 3rd place Lazio which is massive and Inter should be able to finish at least 2nd this season. But only winning the league will do and this team does have the tools to do it. Headed by Romelu Lukaku the Belgian has found a new lease of life after going a little stale at his former club Manchester United and he has already scored 9 goals this season. Even the great Cristiano Ronaldo only has 5 so far for Juve.

But Inter also have quality in their ranks such as Stefano Sensi who has already scored 3 goals from midfield and assisted in another two. In Antonio Conte Inter have a very successful coach the one who masterminded so many Juventus league titles, everything looks in place.

Can Inter go that extra mile and stop another Juventus win? This title looks like it will go down to the wire which, if anything, will be great for Italian football rather than the normal procession.

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Lazio need Joaquin Correa to sharpen his blunt edges – and fast

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As he watched his penalty cannon off the crossbar, Joaquin Correa’s head sank into his hands.

He wanted this – no, he needed this – to go in.

Correa desperately wanted to dedicate a goal to his grandmother, who passed away recently.

He wanted to be the man to secure a hard-fought win for Lazio against Bologna, after seeing his side come back from behind twice.

But most of all, he needed the goal to help change the narrative that has been building this season: that the Argentine lacks a clinical edge.

Continue reading

Simone Inzaghi made mistakes against Inter – but benching Ciro Immobile wasn’t one of them

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As the news filtered through a few hours before kick-off, no one could quite believe it: Ciro Immobile would start on the bench for Lazio against Inter. 

Immobile has started the new season at his lethal best, scoring four goals in his first four games ahead of the trip to San Siro, and another for Italy on international duty.

When the official line-up came out to confirm that Felipe Caicedo would partner Joaquin Correa in attack, there was a general assumption that it must have something to do with Immobile’s strop during Sunday’s win over Parma.

In that game, the striker scored the opening goal but threw a tantrum on his way back to the bench when his number came up in the second half. Continue reading

Romelu Lukaku is becoming a massive hit in Serie A despite the racists

When Romelu Lukaku joined Inter Milan to play in Serie A there were those that doubted the Belgian striker would be able to adapt to a league known for its defence. But Lukaku has just won the Milan derby, as Inter beat AC Milan 2-0 and he has got off to a superb start in the league.

In truth one could wonder why Manchester United sold him- was it because he had an average last season, where he scored 12 league goals. That’s very possible but he was still averaging 1 goal every 2 games and all in all was very consistent. But maybe the move has done Lukaku well. Maybe just maybe he was beginning to go stale at United, and had spent too much time in the Premier League. It does seem evident with the way he has started at Inter Milan that he needed his career to be refreshed. For now it is working wonders.

Lukaku has scored 3 goals in 4 Serie A games for his new club and has hit the ground running. His start means that he will now be a constant pick in the Inter Milan side. In Italy clubs have been notorious for dropping players to the bench who do not start their careers well. Lukaku has simply been on fire, make no mistake.

As for the club Inter Milan look like being at their most strongest since the Jose Mourinho years a decade ago. They are top of the league with 4 wins from as many games, have scored 9 goals and conceded just one, and also are 2 points in front of Juventus who have won the league for the past eight years. The Old Lady as Juventus are called finally seem to have a genuine rival.

Inter will be hoping that Lukaku can transform some of his brilliant form into the Champions League also, and the club did struggle in their first game when only a last minute injury time goal saved them from losing against Slavia Prague at home.

The only sour note of course with regards to Lukaku’s move to Italy is the racism he has had to endure. It has been a sad state of affairs with even his own fans defending racist chants from opposition fans. A Journalist on TV was also suspended for commentating on Lukaku, and the truth is with UEFA doing next to nothing, this will continue as clubs are not being discouraged.

But at least Lukaku his answering the best way he can, and that is on the pitch scoring plenty of goals.

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The facts behind the figures: What we’ve learned about Lazio from the Serie A salary report

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At the start of the week, La Gazzetta dello Sport published its annual breakdown of each Serie A club’s wage bill for the season ahead.

Much of the reaction to the article has focused on Juventus’ massive financial advantage over the rest of Italy and the impact the summer mercato has had on Inter’s spending.

But there were plenty of intriguing sub-plots to be found behind the figures, not least at Lazio. For example…

On paper, a top-four finish would be an over-achievement…

This is by no means a secret, but the gulf in wage spend between Lazio and the teams they are expected to compete with for a top four place this season is significant.  Continue reading

Romelu Lukaku is the latest black player to be racially abused in Serie A

It was difficult this past week to know which was more shocking- the monkey chants being directed at Inter Milan forward Romelu Lukaku or the fans detailed statement to the player saying that thos very chants were not racist.

What is clear is that racism is rife in football and it seems when we zone in on the major European leagues that Italy’s Serie A heads them all.

There are so many stories here but if you did miss it Lukaku was racially abused by Cagliari fans who have a history of it, just ask Mario Balotelli. But in their defence came Inter’s fans, Lukaku’s own team fans who penned an open letter stating in more ways than one, that perhaps he doesn’t understand it but it wasn’t racist.

The penned letter said: We are really sorry you thought that what happened in Cagliari was racist. You have to understand that Italy is not like many other north European countries where racism is a REAL problem. We understand that it could have seemed racist to you but it is not like that. In Italy we use some ‘ways’ only to ‘help our teams’ and to try to make our opponents nervous, not for racism but to mess them up.

“We are a multiethnic fans organisation and we have always welcomed players from everywhere. However, we have always used that ‘way’ with other teams’ players in the past and we probably will in the future. We are not racist and so are not the Cagliari fans. You have to understand that in all Italian stadiums people cheer for their teams but at the same time they use to cheer against the opponents not for racism but to ‘help’ their own team.

“Please consider this attitude of Italian fans as a form of respect for the fact they are afraid of you for the goals you might score against their teams and not because they hate you or they are racist. True racism is a completely different story and all Italian football fans know it very well.”

If you got to the end of that statement with mouth still wide shut, well done. In effect then his own fans are telling him, not to mind that the monkey chants are directed to him, because of and only because he is black. It is this acceptance that is the reason that Italian football and possibly the wider culture is in decline.

Lukaku has not responded, he is now in an awkward situation where he even won’t get support from his own fans. Good luck to him because he will need all of the luck when racism is not seen as that big a deal. Could you imagine this happening in the Premier League, esspecially in this age?

There have been calls for black players to avoid playing in Serie A. That won’t help in any situation and is in fact playing into the so called fans hands. It’s basically what they want. Lukaku himself has said that the fight against racism in football is going backwards and he is partially right, because it has always been going backwards. UEFA has not helped at all. Dishing out meaningless fines does not work. Banning supporters and docking points would.

Lukaku had a fairly easy ride in England, now he will have to understand that even if he is a success in Italy he will be seen sadly as a second rate citizen.

Ruthless PSG keep Neymar and now will go after the Ligue 1 title and Champions League

The transfer saga of Neymar finally ended on September 2nd when the extended European transfer window closed. And Neymar in the end has stayed at PSG, which was surprising news.

The Braziian had been a wantaway star for the past 3 months but a deal could not be secured between his suitors which were his former club Barcelona and Real Madrid. Though it is thought that Neymar’s preferred choice would have been Barca, well he ended up with none of them, the guest at a wedding how ends up single. What now for Neymar?

PSG will expect their player back after the international break where Neymar could play two friendlies, and they need him. The club have injuries to strikers Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe with Mbappe out for 4 weeks. Neymar needs to step in and hit the ground running and that means goals. How will fans react to Neymar still being in the team? True you’d want such a player, but he has talked only about wanting to leave the club. Once he starts scoring goals and winning games he will probably be invited back into the hearts of the fans, but long time loyal ones will be a little suspect of the player and he will have to earn their respect.

As for Neymar’s future, it’s very possible he could still leave in January, although that would mean he wouldn’t be able to play in the latter half of the Champions League. We must remember here is a player that doesn’t want to be in Paris, that reportedly wanted to pay 20m euros to help a deal go through. So his future with the French champions is still uncertain.

What is certain is PSG have been stubborn and ruthless over Neymar’s transfer, it’s something that you can’t blame them for. Why lose out financially on a player that cost you over 200m euros just a couple of seasons ago? At the same time you could argue that Neymar being in the club had become toxic, his friendship at least with Mbappe looks damaged. Again wins and goals could well help repair that.

Despite PSG having to face a less than happy beginning to the season they are still top of the league with 9 points and lead on goal difference from Rennes, Nice and Angers, and they will go after the league again. The step up in the Champions League is also required and out of all of the players coming in this summer one has to be impressed by their last minute loan signing of Mauro Icardi from Inter Milan. Icardi regularly gets 20 goals a season and he should be a success in France.

PSG may have already lost a game, and been in the press for the wrong reasons, but make no mistake every team in France should be worried, because they look stronger than ever.

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The Summer of the Plusvalenza

The first time I ever heard of the word was while reading Luciano Moggi’s autobiography “Il Pallone lo Porto io” which in many ways is so fitting. Juventus’s notorious former sporting director used the terms “plusvalenza da urlo” (a capital gain to scream about) in two different chapters to describe the substantial positive financial impacts of selling both Zinedine Zidane and Zlatan Ibrahimovic while he was running the bBianconeri’s mercato before the Calciopoli scandal.

Because he had acquired the two legendary players for a bargain fee before they broke out on the international stage and kept them a few seasons in Turin, there was a substantial gain to be made even with Ibrahimovic who left for Inter at a below market value when Juventus were abruptly relegated. As many remember, the Zidane sale to Real Madrid brought in such a big pluslvalenza that Moggi was able to acquire Lilian Thuram, Gianluigi Buffon and Pavel Nedved with the proceeds.

So while the term “plusvalenza”- which is the amount a selling club earns above the remaining amortized value for a player they are moving to another team- has been around for a long time, it feels that this is the summer where even a Serie A fan who has no interest in accounting has finally heard about it.

While a plusvalenza has a positive impact on clubs’ bottom line, this summer it has often been used with a negative connotation. As a matter a fact, Plusvalenza FC is now competing with Piemonte Calcio as the new ironic way to refer to Juventus while both Roma and especially Inter have been accused of using creative accounting with their sales in an effort to use plusvalenze to meet their Financial Fair Play parameters (this is even more relevant when you consider that Chievo received a point deduction at the start of last season as punishment for a series of questionable plusvalenze with Cesena).

Moggi certainly was the Godfather of the plusvalenza, but the prime of his management career came in Serie A’s glory days when almost all teams were flush with cash. Nowadays between Financial Fair Play and most Italian clubs carrying substantial debts, plusvalenza is becoming an essential tool when it comes to survival and fielding competitive teams.

Juventus fans have seen the good and bad sides of plusvalenze in past two years. The club was essentially able to cover the cost of the transfer fee to acquire Cristiano Ronaldo by selling likes of Audero, Sturaro, Cerri and Mandragora to mid-table teams in Serie A. These players had been previously bought more as future financial instruments than building blocks for the team and after owning them for a bit, Juventus flipped them for a considerably higher amount than their remaining amortized value.

Plusvalenze used to acquire an all time great like Cristiano Ronaldo are easy to digest, especially when they involve players that aren’t able part of the squad, but it then becomes much more painful to see the likes of Moise Kean, Leonardo Spinazzola and Joao Cancelo leave to generate the profits necessary to maintain a squad that features Ronaldo, newly acquired De Ligt and numerous veterans earning over 7 million after taxes a season.

Cancelo and Spinazzola generated a substantial profit despite spending just one season in Turin, as part of those deals Juventus also acquired Danilo and Luca Pellegrini. It’s hard to argue that the Bianconeri are considerably weaker at the wing back position as a result of the two transactions, but the financial gains on the transactions are what helped pay for acquiring the likes of De Ligt and Demiral. The same applies to Rabiot and Ramsey, who despite signing on a Bosman deal come with substantial annual salaries.

On top of paying for an expensive squad, Juventus posted a significant loss during their last fiscal year. There is the obvious spending to secure Ronaldo (and to pay for his salary), but also the Bianconeri didn’t make a very deep run in the Champions League thus limiting their revenue. To help compensate for the recent expenses and difficult financial outcome, Juventus had to also sacrifice Moise Kean who was sold for 30 million to Everton.

While some complained about the low return, Kean was also in the last deal of his year and at least his entire transfer fee was a plusvalenza since he had no amortized value as a home grown player. For the same reason, Milan strongly encouraged Patrick Cutrone to accept Wolvehampton’s offer- the plusvalenza generated by that transaction can essentially cover the annual cost of all of the Rossoneri’s new additions this summer.

On the other side of Milan, Inter have perfected the art of generating plusvalenze to help meet their Financial Fair Play parameters. While moving Nicolo Zaniolo in the Radja Nainggolan deal certainly came back to bite them, overall the Nerazzurri have done very well selling their Primavera players (who in almost all cases are pure plusvalenze when sold since they tend not to have amortized values to offset) to balance their budget, their most recent accounting masterpiece featured Zinho Vanheudsen joining Standard Liege for over 12 million.

It’s certainly understandable that fans mainly just care about seeing their squads improve in the summer, and someone who is Juventus’ sporting director has to accept that you can go from being a called a genius on the day you sign De Ligt to being called a bumbling fool for selling Cancelo on top of considering selling Dybala- but there are usually connections between the two things, as Moggi taught us a “plusvalenza da urlo” can also net you three champions like Buffon, Thuram and Nedved because you sold Zidane at the right time.

 

Manchester United are out of the equation – so where do Lazio now stand with Sergej Milinkovic-Savic?

If there’s one thing Lazio fans are used to by now, it’s hearing that Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is on the verge of moving to a wealthier rival.

From the moment the Serbian first started making waves in Serie A, newspapers have told of approaches from Real Madrid, Juventus, Inter Milan, PSG, AC Milan, Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea to name a few.

The capital club resisted any interest, but this summer things changed. And one thing’s for sure: the sound of the Premier League transfer window sliding gently shut on Thursday was music to the ears of the Aquile faithful. Continue reading

The tale of De Ligt and Lukaku: the power of the player’s will

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During his tenure as Juventus’ executive director, Beppe Marotta was often mocked for being cheap since his favored way of completing deals was either through Bosman signings or by completing player acquisitions on loan with option to buy. This prudent approach, in addition to two deep runs in the Champions League which brought in significant revenues, allowed Juventus to eventually get to the point where they could afford to sign Cristiano Ronaldo as well as pay his enormous annual salary.

There were two key ingredients in Marotta’s success with Bosman signings: he was never afraid to pay substantial commissions to agents which added up to 80 million between 2014 and 2017 and was always willing to let the player’s will be the main factor in transaction. This strategy was heavily criticized by the club’s fans when the likes of Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba and Carlos Tevez left Turin, but it is now starting to pay huge dividends.

While Marotta left the club to join Inter, Juventus have continued to be the king’s of the Bosman transfer by adding Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot this year and are now using “the player’s will paradigm” to their advantage. Ronaldo wanted to join Juventus last year and his agent Jorge Mendes made the deal happen with Real Madrid and now the same is happening with Matthijs De Ligt.

The uber talented Dutch defender looked to be on his way to Barcelona a few months ago, but while the blaugrana had leveraged their great relationship with Ajax to reach an agreement on the transfer fee, they couldn’t do the same with agent Mino Raiola on his commission as well as De Ligt’s salary. Paris St Germain then were in the driver’s seat but a change in the sporting director’s chair gave an opening to Juventus who are now set to close the deal.

The bianconeri have well established relationship with Raiola- in addition to Paul Pogba, they have also signed another of his clients in Moise Kean recently, they also weren’t afraid to pay him a hefty commission to get the deal done as well as pay De Ligt a huge salary of up to 12 million euro should all bonuses be met. This has been Juventus typical modus operandi- reach an agreement with the player first so they then have leverage when negotiating with his current club.

When the first report of Juventus’ offer to Ajax emerged- 50 million plus bonuses- they were almost universally mocked for making such a low ball proposal. But this is what happens when a club feels like they have no competition and refuse to bid against themselves- in Juventus’ mind, since they were the only club with an agreement on wages and the agent commission (a factor which really cannot be understated since there are big clubs who refuse to compensate Raiola at such a high rate), there was no reason to shot their load on their initial offer.

If that wasn’t enough, during an interview with Dutch paper Telegraph, Mino Raiola revealed that he had an agreement with Ajax that would allow De Ligt to be sold for an offer of 50 million since he had agreed to keep the defender in Amsterdam for the 2018/19 campaign- so all of a sudden Juventus’ offer doesn’t look that outrageous, especially since again they can bank on the player’s will.

Since joining Inter last fall, Beppe Marotta has continued to use the methods that made him so successful at Juventus. Inter signed Diego Godin on a Bosman deal and are now banking on the player’s will to acquire Romelu Lukaku, a striker the nerazzurri’s new manager Antonio Conte has been enamored with dating back to his time at Chelsea.

Lukaku has publicly stated a few times that he would like to play in Serie A and that he considers Conte to be the best manager in the world- verbally he could not have made his desire to join Inter more clear. But actions speak louder than words and Lukaku had already made a significant change by replacing his previous agent Mino Raiola with the more understated (but equally effective) Federico Pastorello.

Pastorello has developed a great relationship with Inter in recent years- Handanovic, Candreva, Asamoah and D’Ambrosio are his clients and he negotiated the deals that brought Antonio Conte and Valentino Lazaro to the nerazzurri. So now that Inter can bank on the player’s will they have to convince Manchester United to let Lukaku go on a deal they can afford- a factor that is complicated by the difficulty to sell Mauro Icardi and Inter’s rightful determination to not include a player like Milan Skriniar in the deal.

Inter’s initial offer to Manchester United involves a loan for 10 million euro and a forced option to buy the striker for an additional 60 million payable over two years. This is essentially a purchase in disguise, it just allows Inter to spread the payments over three fiscal years but obviously on paper it sounds like an almost insulting offer (Manchester United appear to be somewhat open to structuring the deal over multiple years but want 85 million euro).

Marotta’s right hand man Piero Ausilio travelled to London to meet with Manchester United in person to discuss these terms, which can be seen as a sign he thinks the deal can happen, because if not they could have just communicated these terms through intermediaries. Because just like De Ligt already has an agreement with Juventus, Inter felt confident enough to make this type of offer because they feel they have no direct competition- Manchester United would have to find a team willing to pay more but also one that Lukaku wants to join…