It is quite early to discuss next season’s Champions League particularly with the World Cup looming ahead but Inter’s historic treble was much more than a great achievement. It proved once again how difficult it is to repeat as a champion in Europe’s elite club competition. For the Nerazzurri winning the Champions League is the ultimate experience having waited for more than four decades to repeat as champions of Europe.
President Massimo Moratti helped fund the building of the Nerazzurri squad and brought in Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho with the specific objective of bringing European glory to Milan considering the current Serie A title holder have not won the Champions League since the 1960s. Previous boss Roberto Mancini succeeded in breaking the dominance of Juventus and Milan since the early 1990s but failed to combine domestic success with an extended run in Europe’s elite competition as he never guided the Nerazzurri to the Final.
Mourinho succeeded in winning Serie A, Coppa Italia and the Champions League yet he is racing to the exit door leaving the Nerazzurri in a delicate situation following the best season in the club’s history. Players such as Maicon and Diego Milito are now being linked with a move to Real Madrid which is Mourinho’s likely destination. It is only time before Mourinho is confirmed as the boss in Madrid unless he has a change of heart and opts to stay with the Nerazzurri. Other clubs are beginning to assess their chances of luring some of Inter’s key players to leave the peninsula as Arsenal have reportedly shown interest in goalkeeper Julio Cesar while Manchester City are looking to capture midfielder Esteban Cambiasso. These reports might not become reality but all these claims are a major distraction for a club celebrating a historic treble and with some of the star players headed to South Africa 2010.
Assuming Mourinho and some of the players jump ship, the Nerazzurri will be losing some key components while skipper Javier Zanetti is only getting older despite his consistent displays. Zanetti deserves credit for his fighting spirit and for putting in solid performances time and again despite his age. Below is a brief look at some of Inter’s main competitors for next season:
Barcelona: The former holders were ousted by Inter and will be looking to regain their lost title. Barca are one of the most talented teams in the world with Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernandez leading the charge. Barca have added a star name in the shape of striker David Villa while the Catalans remain in pursuit of Arsenal skipper Cesc Fabregas. If they do sign Fabregas then the team will likely start the next La Liga season and Champions League campaign as one of the favourites.
Real Madrid: The record winners of the Champions League will welcome with open arms Mourinho who has made it clear he will only leave the Nerazzurri for Madrid. In Madrid he will have greater individual talent to work with yet less of a cohesive unit and a weaker team spirit. Mourinho will be motivated to turn this team of stars into a strong and unified squad. Los Galacticos already have former Milan idol Kaka and world record signing Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks but it would not be a surprise if Mourinho asked for Maicon and Diego Milito to be signed from Inter. If they do, then Los Galacticos will be considered as a firm favourite considering they only missed on La Liga title by three points and many forget it does take time for news players to gel together.
Chelsea: Ironically Mourinho was shown the doors at Stamford Bridge because he failed to bring European glory to the London club but he did punish his former employers by eliminating them in the knockout stages of the Champions League by beating them twice home and away. Chelsea hired former Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti and the Italian succeeded in leading the Blues to a historic double by winning the Premier League and FA Cup in his first season in charge. Ancelotti made it clear his main objective for next season is to repeat the domestic double and to win in Europe. While Chelsea have a strong squad with experience and talent, the players as individuals are below the talent level of Spanish giants Real and Barca.
Bayern Munich: Bayern proved they are a solid team after a slow start to the season and the final in Madrid was perhaps a small representation of their season as they only began to show their potential after conceding the first goal to Inter’s hero Milito. The Bavarians will have Arjen Robben (despite rumours linking him with Juventus; just unlikely to happen for a number of reasons) and French star Franck Ribery will apparently return after missing the Champions League final due to suspension. The Germans are a solid group but like Chelsea they are not on par with Real and Barca if individuals are compared on a position by position basis.
Manchester United: Manchester have one of the best managers in Sir Alex Ferguson but he can certainly be stubborn leading him to make the odd mistake here and there, particularly when it comes to offloading certain players or refusing to bring in the appropriate players to replace outgoing stars. The Red Devils did not replace Cristiano Ronaldo and their challenge for Chelsea in the Premiership and before that in the Champions League tie against Bayern faltered once it became clear Wayne Rooney is carrying injury. If Manchester do not sign a couple of solid players, in particular one goal scorer to complement Rooney, then they will likely fall short in the early knockout stages with perhaps a quarter-final spot at best.
There are other less likely contenders but the strongest ones would be Italian duo Roma and Milan yet the two sides have a number of limitations such as their restricted budget for bringing in players and in the case of the Rossoneri an aging squad. Milan will need Brazilian stars Ronaldinho and Alexandre Pato to stay and will hope a capable coach will take charge at Milanello to promote a few promising players from the youth sector and sign a number of quality players to reinforce the team. As for Roma they have do not have a deep bench and their first team is often riddled with injuries due to the age of some key players such as Francesco Totti. It is unlikely either squad will win the Champions League but they can play the role of a spoiler if their stars remain healthy and fit.
It is quite hard to repeat in the Champions League as shown by the famous Milan side in the 1990s which dismantled Barca 4-0 in an epic encounter only to loss the next year in the final to Ajax Amsterdam who in turn were defeated the following year by Juventus. The Bianconeri would go on to play in two more consecutive finals yet the curse of repeating would also prove to be their downfall despite having the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Alessandro Del Piero (at his peak).