Walter Mazzarri’s first year with Inter Milan and the Nerazzurri hasn’t been an easy one. I don’t believe Inter fans should complain too much, however. Inter just clinched 5th place in Serie A and a spot in the Europa League. Undeniably Inter has been a boring and slow moving team during this season. While there is a general consensus about the team having limits, Mazzarri has often been indicated as the culprit of the situation.
The fact that last week the coach decided to keep Javier Zanetti, “La Bandiera” (the flag) of Inter Milan, on the bench in what would have been Zanetti’s last derby against city rivals AC Milan really didn’t help Mazzarri’s cause. Nerazzurri fans flooded social media asking for his head.
Inter fans, Italian critics and newspapers blame Mazzarri for his inability to give Inter Milan an identity, for having delayed Mateo Kovacic’ development and for his attitude that often uses sarcasm bordering on arrogance.
But is Mazzarri really that bad? He’s done well with every club he’s been to, including his recent years at Napoli. Granted, with the likes of Cavani, Hamsik and Lavezzi, it is probably easier to achieve results than with the current Inter roster. However it is a fact that Mazzarri has never once been fired in his career and has always been considered as a coach who likes to play a pretty open game.
Pressure at Inter Milan, though, is constant. Inter fans are likely the most dedicated and demanding fans in Italy. Loving Inter for them is a way of life, more than a sport-related pastime.
My feeling is that Mazzarri – at the end of this turbulent season – didn’t do too badly. After all, the 5th place finish is pretty much where Inter belongs today. He kept Kovacic on the bench for a long time, but is now playing great football, so maybe Mazzarri was right when he said that the Croatian needed some time to grow and couldn’t be thrown on the pitch from the beginning of the season.
I do think that he made a huge mistake in insisting Inter play his preferred strategy, the 3-5-2 that worked so well in Napoli, but not in Milan. Mazzarri is reluctant to admit mistakes, so he is the kind of hardheaded guy who keeps doing the same thing over and over again, hoping that results change.
The 3-5-2 scheme requires a particular roster and mainly very good lateral midfielders — something that with Jonathan and Nagatomo, Inter hasn’t got. Worse, if you don’t have the right players, the 3-5-2 is detrimental to the team because it messes you up in midfield.
Take Inter’s case. By insisting with Jonathan and Nagatomo as wing-midfielders, Mazzarri found himself playing two weak defenders at midfield. Because of that Inter had been playing with only 3 real midfielders, mostly Cambiasso, Kovacic and Hernanes in recent games (Cambiasso-Guarin-Alvarez earlier in the tournament).
While it was obvious to everyone else but him that Inter had big issues at midfield (casual, improvised maneuvering, lack of ideas, slow development of the play), Mazzarri didn’t want to change. He would admit to the issues, but never really considered that it was time to switch to a 4-4-2 that would allow for 4 real midfielders. That inability to put himself in doubt, and some of his post game interviews where he blatantly blamed some of his players without accepting responsibility, have contributed to the deterioration of the relationships with the Inter supporters.