Fallen giant Inter Milan still chasing Mourinho magic

Inter Milan returns to the grand stage of the Champions League for the first time since the 2010-11 season.

Luciano Spalletti supervises the training session on match eve.   -  AFP

Eight years have elapsed since Jose Mourinho’s reign as Inter Milan coach ended on a historic high of Champions League glory, and the fallen Italian giant is still struggling to recapture that magic from Madrid.

The Portuguese oversaw the most successful season in the club’s history -- a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich at the Santiago Bernabeu completed the first treble of Serie A, domestic Cup and Champions League in Italian history.

Since those days it has been lean times for the 18-time Italian and three-time European champion, with the only title of any sort a 2011 Italian Cup crown.

Luciano Spalletti’s side returns to the Champions League for the first time since the 2010-11 season on Tuesday, when it hosts Tottenham Hotspur at the San Siro.

Expectations are high, but its return comes against a backdrop of continuing crisis as the Nerazzurri lies a lowly 15th with just one win and four points from four games.

Read: Barca desperate to make amends with Rome memories still fresh

Inter, which finished fourth last season, had looked a serious rival to seven-time reigning champion Juventus with summer signings such as Radja Nainggolan, Matteo Politano, Sime Vrsjalko and Keita Balde.

“The responsibility is mine if a lot of players are showing less than their full potential,” said Spalletti after Inter loanee Federico Dimarco scored the winner for Parma on Saturday.

“I must think about improving the team and doing my job well because I have a strong squad here.” The task of stopping Juventus on the domestic scene was already daunting, but it now looks impossible.

“It’s crisis .. Inter are lost and unable to react,” wrote Gazzetta Dello Sport.

“Morale in pieces,” added Corriere Dello Sport.

The headlines have been the same since Mourinho packed his bags for Real Madrid in 2010, with 11 coaches succeeding the current Manchester United manager in the Inter Milan hotseat.

First up was Rafael Benitez, who arrived in Italy after a six-year reign at Liverpool. The Spaniard's stay was brief -- six months in total.

Despite winning the Italian Super Cup and the Club World Cup, he clashed with then owner Massimo Moratti over demands for new players.

Inter suffered its first loss of its Champions League defence at Tottenham in November 2010.

Ex-AC Milan star Leonardo’s appointment after Benitez was a bolt from the blue, arriving from Inter’s bitter city rival with whom it shares a stadium.

Despite some success he lasted just six months, as the holder crashed out of the Champions League.

Financial turmoil

Coaches followed one after the other -- Gian Piero Gasperini, Claudio Ranieri and Andrea Stramaccioni, the latter leading Inter to ninth in 2013 as it failed to qualify for Europe for the first time in 15 seasons.

Walter Mazzarri lasted four months before former Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini returned to the club he led to three straight Serie A titles between 2006 and 2008.

Mancini lifted it to fourth, just outside the Champions league places in 2016, but left to be replaced by Frank De Boer, who lasted just 85 days.

Ex-Roma and Zenit St. Petersburg coach Spalletti took over in June 2017, but his days now look numbered too.

The past eight years have been overshadowed by financial turmoil, both in Italy and the club.

Moratti -- club president from 1995 to 2013 -- oversaw one of the most successful eras of the club, bringing in stars such as Brazilian Ronaldo, Christian Vieri, Youri Djorkaeff, and Diego Simeone.

He also convinced high-profile coaches Marcello Lippi and Mourinho to manage the club.

Moratti sold his shares to Indonesian businessman Erik Thohir in October 2013, leading to hopes of a brighter future, but the club has won nothing since.

The club’s unstable financial situation saw Thohir relinquish control to Suning Holdings Group in 2016 which became the first Chinese owner in Serie A history.

Chinese owner Zhang Jindong promised “to take this club back to the heights and build a great team and fill it with superstars“.

Captain Mauro Icardi’s future, however, looks in doubt with reports Mourinho wants the Argentine to join United in the January transfer window.

The Italian press has been calling for Mourinho himself to return, with Inter idol Simeone expressing his interest should he leave Atletico Madrid.

“It will happen one day even if right now I am happy in Madrid and I think I am doing well,” Simeone said.

Tuesday’s game against Tottenham could be decisive for Spalletti’s future.

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