Walter Mazzarri’s Evolution at San Siro

Evolution, not revolution. It is easy to get ahead of ourselves. A string of good performances and everything changes. It can be the difference between a manager getting sacked, or in this case, deserved recognition.

But in the case of 52 year old Inter boss Walter Mazzarri, it is so much more than just a ‘string of good performances’. What we are witnessing, what has been brewing for months now, is the rewards of subtlety, and shrewdness all so delicately and inattentively carried out by Walter Mazzarri.

It was on the accomplishments of his beloved Napoli side that Mazzarri was given the job at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. During four years at Naples, Mazzarri completely transformed a side that had lay in the doldrums of Serie C1 only five years prior to his appointment as manager.

 

Napoli

Glory days at Napoli
Glory days at Napoli

When appointed as manager of SSC Napoli in October of 2009 no one would have anticipated the transformation of the underachieving minnows under Mazzarri. Nicknamed the Sleeping Giants since the days of Maradona at the club, Napoli had always struggled to rekindle the form of El Diego’s 1990’s side. But after promotion to Serie A under Roberto Donnadoni and the addition of Mazzarri to the club, Napoli went on to establish a much loved and often since, underrated, side. With a brandish style of flowing counter-attacking football, Mazzarri implemented his system with very little money spent on transfers. In his first season at the Stadio San Pablo, he guided Napoli to a sixth place finish, thus qualifying for the Europa League through the now discontinued Intertoto Cup.

But it was in his second season that things took flight for Mazzarri at Napoli. With one of the bargains of the decade, Napoli brought in 23 year old Edison Cavani for €17 million (Cavani would later be sold for over €64 million). In return for the then large transfer fee, Cavani ended the season with 26 goals in Serie A, hauling Napoli to an astonishing third place finish. It was during the 2010-11 season that Mazzarri also implemented his infamous 3-4-3 formation. With Campagnaro, Cannavaro and Salvatore Aronica at the back and the devastating combination of Marek Hamšík, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Cavani up front, Napoli lit up the Serie A with their fast paced and attack-minded approach of counter-attacking football.

A Copa Italia title and a UEFA Champions League run (Napoli’s first season in the Euopean Cup for twenty years) that ended with a shocking but equally underwhelming defeat to Chelsea in the last sixteen showcased the best that Walter Mazzarri’s Napoli had to offer. Finishing second in a group with Bayern Munich, Villarreal and Manchester City, Napoli’s European run attracted admirers all across Europe, whilst a fifth place finish in Serie A was largely forgiven with the victory over Juventus in the Copa Italia final in Rome. Mazzarri finished his Napoli reign in good fashion, finishing second in Serie A with a record 78 points.

 

Internazionale

It is not Walter Mazzarri’s method to simply rip up the old blueprint and start fresh all over again. With him it is more slow, patient. We may not take notice at first, but he will always be there, picking away slowly, patiently. From the outside you see so little. It may appear that nothing is actually changing at all. But with Walter Mazzarri there is always progress occurring. Always moving forward, slowly, always formulating a strategy, patiently.

It would be too simple to suggest that Inter’s 7-0 thrashing of Sassuolo was the beginning of a new era at the San Siro. Being backed to win Serie A this season by many, it appears that steam has certainly gathered behind the Inter fraytrain. But this is not a shock result. The scoreline appears inflated and catches the eye, but Inter have been a team building and progressing ever since Mazzarri took charge eighteen months ago. Evolution not revolution.

Although many suggest, and are justified in many ways, that Inter have been decaying and in a spriralling decline ever since Jose Mourinho left the club, the past year and a half not been so. Whereas Rafael Benitez, Leonardo, Gasperini (briefly), Claudio Ranieri and Andrea Stramaccioni did contribute to the decline, Mazzari has lifted Inter from the depths of their unending decline and has raised them. Last season, his first in charge, Mazzari led his Inter side to an anti-climactic fifth place finish. Fifteen wins. Fifteen draws. Fifteen draws. The most in Serie A that season. This was Inter’s obvious but futile undoing. Mazzari’s Inter simply could not convert enough draws into wins. Those are the statistics, but on the football on the pitch tells a different story.

 

Personnel and system

Mateo Kovačić: The new generation
Mateo Kovačić: The new generation

3-5-2: A familiar three at the back system for Mazzarri. It worked at Napoli and it is working at Inter. Playing with Gary Medel and Hernanes dropping deep, Mazzarri has given Mateo Kovacic a free role in the number ten ‘hole’ position. In front of him is the duo of Mauro Icardi and either of Paulo Osvaldo or Rodrigo Palacio. With Andrea Ranocchia patrolling the three man back line dropping slightly deeper than the other two centre backs, Mazzarri can play with attacking fullbacks in Yuto Nagatomo and new signing Dodô.

With the ageing Diego Milito, Esteban Cambiasso, Walter Samuel, Christian Chivu, as well as club captain Javier Zanetti and Ricky Alvarez leaving the club, Mazzarri has a young, keen squad at his disposal. With the irreplaceable Samir Handanovic, one of Europe’s top (and most underrated) goalkeepers, between the posts and new captain Andrea Ranocchia in defence, Inter look a reassured and compressed side without                                                                                                      possession.

However it is with the ball that Mazzarri has made progress. Mauro Icardi and Mateo Kovacic are the undeniable jewels in this Inter Milan team. Kovacic, at only 20 years old is the most promising young talent to come out of Serie A in years. Words cannot do justice to his vision, range of passing and confidence to dribble with the ball. With a hattrick against Stjarnan in Europa League qualification as well as another goal and two assists against Sassuolo, the rise of the young Serbian is inevitable, whilst any and all followers of Serie A know about Icardi. Still young at only 21, Icardi has already scored six goals for Inter so far this season. With vigorous drive and a willingness to press the ball, the only thing between Icardi and Europe’s top strikers, is time.

 

Opportunity

Opportunity: Resurrect the glorious past of Internazionale.
Opportunity: Resurrect the glorious past of Internazionale.

As with the dawn of every new season, there is great optimism in the blue half of Milan. Every season promises to be the one where Inter will project themselves once again and take their place amongst the top teams in Europe. With the decline of AC Milan, Ajax, Lyon as well as Inter, European competition has lost much of its traditional and beloved clubs. Yet it seems that this forthcoming season could indeed be one of opportunity to the Nerazzurri.

The confidence and progress that Walter Mazzarri has brought to this new Inter Milan side is undeniable. The decline of Rafael Benitez’s Napoli is Inter’s chance. A young, vibrant side is in Walter Mazzarri’s hands. New owners. Renewed optimism and the backing of the fans. This season is an opportunity that Inter cannot miss. They have failed in the past. But now there is light at the end of the torturous tunnel for fans of Internazionale.

It is not Walter Mazzarri’s method to simply rip up the old blueprint and start fresh all over again. With him it is more slow, patient. We may not take notice at first, but he will always be there, picking away slowly, patiently. From the outside you see so little. It may appear that nothing is actually changing at all. But with Walter Mazzarri there is always progress occurring. Always moving forward, slowly, always formulating a strategy, patiently. Evolution, not revolution.

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