For weeks the Italian press have been asking whether the Spaniard will be around long enough to enjoy a slice of the Milanese Christmas cake. After Inter’s final Serie A game of 2010, it feels like a case of so near, and yet so far. Beaten 3-1 by Lazio at Stadio Olimpico, Inter have slid to 10 points behind the league leaders Milan. Should next week’s strike be called off, the gap could stretch to 16 points before the Nerazzurri’s next Serie A fixture.
Benítez is now indisputably on the brink, a man, as La Stampa put it, “walking with a pistol at his temple”. Everything rests on the next two weeks. On Friday Inter fly to Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup, which they will join at the semi-final stage. The Inter owner Massimo Moratti had declared before the latest defeat that he would rate the season so far as a 6,5 out of 10, but “if we win the Club World Cup, I will add 3,5”.
Moratti was watching when Inter became the first Italian team to win its predecessor, the Intercontinental Cup, in 1964, and victory this time would make them the first Serie A side to win five trophies (including the pre-season SuperCup) in one calendar year.
The desire to see this team crowned kings of the world is palpable. Despite tough economic times, more than 2 000 supporters are making the trip to Abu Dhabi. Among them will be a group of Curva Nord Ultras carrying 3 000 flags and 8 000 decorated pieces of card to be used in pre-match choreography.
But if the owner has made it plain international glory is his priority, that does not mean he is content with events at home. He was described by Gazzetta as “serenely livid” on Sunday — caught between fury at another loss and excitement about the next fortnight.
Moratti’s most consistent complaint about Benítez’s Inter has been that they lack sufficient desire, the “rage”, as he has repeatedly put it, to grind out a result. Inter have committed fewer fouls (179) this season than any other team in Serie A and also have the fewest yellow cards (19). Lazio were not dirty on Friday but the physicality of players like Matuzalém and Stefan Radu knocked several in the Inter line-up out of their stride.
Nor will Moratti stand for excuses about absent players. Inter have suffered 42 separate injuries already this season, with Dejan Stankovic becoming the latest victim when he limped off in the first half clutching his thigh, but Moratti subscribes to the view that Benítez is at least partly to blame. The manager’s training methods are markedly different to those of his predecessor, focusing heavily on gym work where 90% of José Mourinho’s sessions involved working with a ball.
But if the headline-writers were able to proclaim on Saturday that it was Lazio, not Inter, who looked like the best side in the world then Moratti, too, has to take his share of the blame. Not for the first time this season Lazio were inspired by Hernanes, the summer signing from São Paulo who has taken Serie A by storm. A player who the Times ranked in January 2009 as the most promising in the entire world. A player who should have belonged to Inter.
The Nerazzurri had secured a first option on Hernanes in the spring, but when Serie A’s rules were changed in the summer to prevent teams from signing more than one player from outside the EU, they decided to go in a different direction, signing the 18-year-old Coutinho from Vasco de Gama instead. Out yesterday with an injury, Coutinho has shown enough promise to suggest he may yet have an exciting future at Inter. – Guardian.