Luciano Spalletti’s track record hints he can be successful at Inter Milan

Luciano Spalletti’s track record hints he can be successful at Inter Milan

In a welcome contrast to last summer, Inter announced the arrival of their new coach early this time around, officially hiring Luciano Spalletti on a two-year deal today.

After being linked with Antonio Conte and Diego Simeone, there’s little point denying that the pick is seen as underwhelming by part of the Nerazzurri fanbase, especially as the Tuscan coach (he’s from Certaldo, near Florence) was unable to deliver a title to Roma, and had a public standoff with club legend Francesco Totti last season.

But is this fair? No, not really. Though Spalletti has his downsides (his European record, or his recent struggles in big games) he still has an impressive track record, and enough untapped potential to take the Nerazzurri to the promised land of Champions League qualification and, eventually, a Scudetto.

If both Conte and Simeone were seen as ideal because of the instant results they obtained at Juventus and Atletico Madrid, respectively, what do we make of Spalletti’s efforts at Roma last season, where he won 14 Serie A games out of 19 — with only one loss — after replacing Rudi Garcia in January?

Moreover, he led a shoddily-assembled Roma to 11 straight league wins back in 2005-2006, and two consecutive second-place finishes after that — a stunning improvement for the cash-strapped Giallorossi.

Far from being a disappointment or a rehash of attacking coaches like Gian Piero Gasperini and Frank de Boer, Spalletti is a strong candidate for the job, a clever tactician who produces beautiful football when he can, but isn’t afraid of plugging away with subpar talent if he has to.

Remember, this is the crafty tactician who reinvented Totti as a false striker in 2006-2007, and Edin Dzeko last season.

Rather than react negatively, skeptical Nerazzurri fans would do well to ask what the former Zenit coach is supposedly missing.

Though three second-place finishes (four if you count 2005-06) at Roma and that 7-1 loss to Manchester United seem to paint the picture of a chronic near-misser, it must be remembered that Spalletti has always been the underdog: Inter ruled the roost during his first stint, and the current Juventus side is unbeatable — in Italy, anyway.

Despite that, the Tuscan never took things lying down, leading the 2007-2008 Giallorossi to within three points of Inter and earning a record (for Roma, anyway) 28 Serie A wins last season.

If anything, Spalletti’s champagne football and preposterous win percentages (54 percent in his first Roma stint, 66 percent in his second) prove he’s a diamond in the rough, one of the many respected Italian coaches to have never been given a break, in the mold of Vincenzo Montella and Cesare Prandelli.

Fears that the Tuscan might have lost some of his edge in Russia were abated when he revolutionised a decimated defence by adopting 3-4-2-1, also asking Radja Nainggolan and Stephan El Shaarawy to change positions, to great success.

The trouble as usual with Inter coaches, however, is that their failures at the San Siro aren’t only (or even mainly) down to their shortcomings, but those of a club that is chaotically run and impulsive to the extreme.

For a start, president Jindong Zhang’s remorseless pursuit of Conte against insurmountable odds might be proof that the Chelsea coach’s shadow will always be lurking in the background, no matter how well Spalletti does. It doesn’t help that Simeone’s deal with Atletico expires next summer.

Because instant turnarounds don’t grow on trees, it feels like this blog will be writing about the need to back Spalletti before too long, despite what will probably be a decent record for a first-year manager.

Beyond that, the Tuscan has never enjoyed backroom wrangling, recently regretting his return to Rome because of the never-ending Totti saga.

After benching the aging legend for the umpteenth time and getting booed for his efforts, Spalletti lashed out in a post-game conference: “All this really disappoints me … If I could go back, I would never have returned to Roma. We always end up talking about the same thing.”

If Roma are bad enough, what will Spalletti make of the madhouse that is the San Siro? Though Inter coaches are generally odds-on to be fired during their first season, it wouldn’t be a surprise if this one turns out to be a workable solution, only for his frayed nerves to force him out before his time.

By Edoardo Dalmonte for ESPN

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