De Boer: Dutchman’s 85-day Inter reign doomed from the start

Adam Digby 1/11/2016
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De Boer’s reign ended before it really began.

85 days. Frank de Boer was sacked by Inter on Tuesday lunchtime, the Dutchman lasting just that long into a reign that was handicapped from the very beginning, a Serie A defeat at the hands of Sampdoria this past weekend proving one too many for the club’s Chinese owners. Yet the same officials who terminated his reign after just 84 days were also hugely responsible for the team’s struggles, starting with the late appointment of the former Ajax and Barcelona defender just as the 2016/17 campaign was about to begin.

12 days. Having taken control of the Milanese side earlier this summer, the Suning Group waited until there were less than two weeks before their first official match before firing Roberto Mancini. Yet bizarrely that decision might not even crack the top three if the managerial mistakes of the ownership consortium now in charge of the Nerazzurri were to be ranked.

They handed the 46-year-old a three-year contract, which appeared to be a signal of the direction they wanted their Inter to take, yet in truth they have done little to facilitate any real change behind the scenes. Always appearing to be in turmoil over the past few seasons, the club has lurched from one mistake to the next, but the change in ownership – first to entrepreneur Erick Thohir and then to Suning – seemed set to usher in a new era.

Some smart acquisitions were made last year, adding the likes of João Miranda and Jeison Murillo to bolster the defence, the South American duo becoming one of Italy’s best pairings. This summer, the signing of João Mário required substantial investment, with Inter shelling out over €40 million to bring in the Portuguese midfielder. But the signing of out of contract Éver Banega layed down an even clearer statement of their intent.

Given that they also ignored major bids for the likes of goalkeeper Samir Handanović and leading scorer Mauro Icardi, there was no question their squad was talented enough to succeed. With those star names supplemented by additional talents such as Ivan Perišić, there was little doubt the side was talented enough to succeed.

Given his lack of time with the players in pre-season, it was obviously going to take some time before De Boer’s team took shape. Sure enough, they would lose away to Chievo and be held at home by Palermo, but came back with a 2-1 win over Pescara following the first international break.

That hinted that, given time, the new boss could indeed thrive even in the tumultuous atmosphere that has always surrounded Inter. Their next match would highlight just how far they had come, thoroughly outplaying Juventus at the San Siro and taking all three points from the reigning champions in a wonderful display.

Pressing the Bianconeri midfield perfectly while completely nullifying their attacking options, it was a superb performance that owed so much to De Boer’s tactical acumen. Three more points came against Empoli, while they were unlucky not to also beat AS Roma with another excellent performance.

However, from there Inter lived up to their reputation for self-destruction. Captain Icardi’s first autobiography was released, a sensational chapter detailing his disdain for the club’s hardcore supporters causing major unrest in the stands and forcing the club, player and Ultra groups to spend a weekend issuing statements addressing the issue.

As the team took to the field to take on Cagliari, Icardi was booed by his own fans, who then cheered when he missed a crucial penalty. It was revealed in the aftermath that nobody at Inter thought to proof-read the book before it was published, yet another oversight that could have so easily been avoided.

De Boer rallied them in the Europa League, recording a tough win over Southampton as Antonio Candreva netted one of only three goals conceded by the in-form Premier League club over the entire month of October. Another excellent victory over Torino would follow, but that visit to Genoa where Sampdoria’s Fabio Quagliarella’s goal was enough for all three points saw De Boer relieved of his duties.

Youth team Coach Stefano Vecchi will take charge for Thursday night’s return fixture with Southampton, while former Lazio boss Stefano Pioli is expected to be the long-term replacement. Like De Boer he will have little time to make adjustments, whilst also having to oversee a club who have overspent so much that Gabigol, Joao Mario, Geoffroy Kondogbia and Stevan Jovetic are unable to feature in Europe due to Financial Fair Play regulations.

That lends both an unprofessional and disjointed air to the group, while Pioli will be the ninth permanent appointment since Jose Mourinho left the club in the summer of 2010. There is no denying that De Boer made mistakes both in terms of team selection and tactical approach in certain games, but his reign also showed immense potential and he clearly had a vision for the future of the side.

Pioli would be an uninspiring choice, a recycled coach who has no real history of tangible success or a notable philosophy that could bring about the revolution this club so clearly needs. Fire-fighting is once again the order of the day in the black and blue half of Milan, Inter seemingly forever locked into a cycle of never-ending crises.

Rather than planning for the future or planting any real roots, the Nerazzurri are prisoners of the moment and slaves to their most recent results, an approach that has brought increasingly poor results ever since their historic treble win of 2010. In 2016/17, their talent-laden squad should be truly contending for a Champions League berth, yet they currently sit 13th.

If a list of reasons for their disappointing form was drawn up, Frank De Boer would not feature too highly, but he has been sacked anyway. His 85 days in charge were doomed before they began, and perhaps those higher up at Inter should be looking a little closer in the mirror.

12 days to prepare, then 85 days to turn around a club and team with serious fundamental problems? Neither was enough.

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Manuel Locatelli - future AC Milan captain and ‘new Pirlo’?

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Midfield maestros: Locatelli has been compared to legendary Pirlo.

Manuel Locatelli’s debut for AC Milan was supposed to take place against Juventus six months ago, in April 2016, but was prevented in bizarre circumstances.

Riccardo Montolivo’s fitness was questionable ahead of the big game, and Sinisa Mihajlovic stated that the 18-year-old starlet will start if the captain is unfit. Eventually, Montolivo managed to play, but midway through the second-half – just as Juve completed the comeback and took a 2-1 lead – he apparently told the bench that a substitution was needed.

The Serbian coach gave Lecco-born Locatelli instructions, and the youngster was standing on the touchlines. The fourth referee raised the sign with his number, and he was visibly emotional ahead of getting the chance to shine at San Siro. Then something very strange occurred.

As Montolivo and Mihajlovic explained after the final whistle, there was an unusual misunderstanding. The captain tried to signal that Mario Balotelli was hurt, and the striker was the one who needed to be substituted. The coach told Locatelli to return to the bench, Montolivo remained on the pitch, and Kevin-Prince Boateng came on instead.

Milan lost, and just three days later Mihajlovic was extremely controversially sacked. Thus, Locatelli played his first two Serie A games under Cristian Brocchi, and that was rather unfair towards the man who was bold enough to make Gianluigi Donnarumma a star at the age of 16 and intended to nurture the talents of the brilliant midfielder as well.

Mihajlovic saw Locatelli as the natural heir to Montolivo. The captain has been rather unpopular with Milan fans for a while, and the calls to replace him were quite loud last term already. “There are some people I am never going to please, so I just get used to it,” the 31-year-old midfield general said recently. Locatelli, on the other hand, was viewed as a great hope, mostly because of the plaudits he received from everyone.

Silvio Berlusconi compared the youngster to Andrea Pirlo before he even made a single appearance for the first team. Mihajlovic promoted Locatelli to the senior squad in the summer of 2015, and frequently hailed him as the brightest prospect of his generation. “Manuel is not ready yet, but he will be in the next few weeks”, the Serbian said in March, “He is very intelligent and will be a great addition to us”.

The most intriguing quote came from the chief of scouting, Mauro Bianchessi, who was responsible for bringing Locatelli to the academy at the age of 11, after the kid chose Milan over Inter. “Remember the name. Manuel is a player of great quality, and he will become our captain within three years. We need to be patient with young players and allow them to make mistakes during the learning process”, he said a few days before the debut that never was.

Vincenzo Montella, who replaced Brocchi in the summer, had similar ideas, but was still reluctant to give Locatelli a place in the starting line-up. Montolivo continued to be considered a key player in the 4-3-3 formation, alongside Giacomo Bonaventura and Juraj Kucka, and the 18-year-old was only used as a substitute.

His most impressive performance came at the beginning of October, when Manuel replaced Montolivo as Milan were 3-1 down against Sassuolo at the San Siro. Locatelli scored the equalizing goal with a truly majestic volley, and was absolutely ecstatic to net for the first time in Serie A. He burst into tears in the post-match interview, and it was impossible not to feel excited for him. After all, he had been waiting for this moment since joining Milan’s academy as an 11-year-old from Atlanta.

Milan fans remembered that Montolivo’s last goal for the club was back in January 2014, and the Rossoneri quite remarkably lost 4-3 to Sassuolo that day. The captain hadn’t found the net since, but Locatelli proved to be a great finisher and Milan won 4-3 against the same opponents this time. Wasn’t it a clear sign?

A lot of San Siro faithful demanded that Locatelli replaced Montolivo, but didn’t want it to happen in tragic circumstances. Just four days after the Sassuolo fixture, the veteran midfielder tore his knee ligaments in a clash with Sergio Ramos while playing for Italy against Spain. He will now miss the rest of the season, and the youngster was naturally chosen by Montella to fill the void.

Even Locatelli’s biggest admirers couldn’t possibly have dreamt of such a remarkable rise. After playing superbly in the 3-1 win at Chievo, the 18-year-old “future captain” was the man of the match against Juventus. He was calm under pressure and composed in only his third start in the top division, never letting Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic settle in midfield, and then – after 65 minutes – scored a stunning winner. The magnificent shot gave Gianluigi Buffon no chance, and Manuel became the youngest Milan player to find the net against Juve since Gianni Rivera in 1961. Could he become a legend like Rivera and play for Milan for nearly two decades?

It was an ironic way to close the circle. What would have happened if Locatelli had played against Juventus in April? Maybe he would have scored the equaliser, allowing Berlusconi to change his mind regarding Mihajlovic? The whole scrip might have been different, but that is now irrelevant. Locatelli’s time has come, and Montella trusts him. He is an integral part of a very young squad, and the sky is the limit for him and Donnarumma. The future looks bright for Rossoneri.

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Relentless Salah punishes Koulibaly

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Koulibaly Kalidou was left red-faced after a persistent Mohamed Salah cornered the defender at his own by-line in a Serie A clash between Napoli and AS Roma.

The Egyptian attacker chased what seemed like a lost cause before pinning down the Napoli centre-back and nicking the ball off him.

Salah proceeded to lay the ball perfectly for Edin Dzeko who was free inside the box and made no mistake, tucking his finish into the back of the net.

The goal marked a third assist for Salah in the Serie A this season while he already has three strikes to his name.

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