For a club so steeped in history, it was appropriate that Internazionale looked to Roberto Mancini to bring the club back to European prominence last November. Mancini, after all, won three straight Serie A titles with Inter his first time around. 

And it was only five years ago when Inter Milan were the best team in Europe. In capping off the first treble season ever by a Serie A team, Inter retained the Catenaccio principles it built its European name on under Helenio Herrera in the 60’s. With Mancini’s replacement José Mourinho and playmaker Wesley Sneijder leading the way, the 2010 side added the physicality and a focus on transitions required in the modern game, with touches of creativity on the side.

The high point of the campaign was the second leg match versus Barcelona in the Champions League semis finals. Inter lost the possession battle 86% to 14%, outpassed 555 to 67, but won the soccer war 3-2 on aggregate. Herrera invented “parking the bus” 45 years earlier. Mourinho elevated the pragmatism to an art.  

Inter then beat Bayern Munich 2-0 in the Champions League finals, a match in which they were never troubled. Mourinho gave center back Marco Materazzi a hug, then left for Real Madrid. Keeper Francesco Toldo retired after the match. Materazzi retired a year later.

Inter won the Coppa Italia the next season. The club haven’t raised another trophy since.


Replacing Mourinho that summer was Rafa Benitez. While his pragmatic approach to matches fell in line with Mourinho, he was the polar opposite in terms of man management. His alienation of Materazzi and Sneijder lead to his dismissal midseason.

Benitez was followed by Leonardo, who led Inter to a second place finish that season before leaving that summer. He was replaced by Gian Piero Gasperini’s swashbuckling 3-4-3 formation, and promptly lead the side to its worst start since 1921 and was sacked for the ultimate caretaker Claudio Ranieri. Ranieri was fired later that season and replaced by Andrea Stramaccioni.

Stramaccioni lasted the entirety of the 2012/2013 season before being replaced by counter attacking manager de jour Walter Mazzarri, architect of the hipster Napoli side. Mazzarri lasted a little more than a season before Mancini was rehired.

Inter’s search for a leader wasn’t for a lack of trying, as they tried every style of manager. Benitez achieved European success. Leonardo was the closest to Mourinho in developing relationships with players. Ranieri was the well traveled pragmatist. Stramaccioni brought youth academy experience and success to replicate an Italian version of Pep Guardiola. Gasperini tried to replicate his Genoa attack with a 3-4-3 formation, but later realized it was a cultural mistake. Mazzarri attempted to rebuild Europe’s ultimate counter attacking machine with the same formation. The latter two found out first hand the difficulty of translating a startup style cool at Inter’s corporate headquarters.

In the meantime, Inter slipped from second, to sixth, to ninth, to fifth on the table. Champions League appearances turned into the Europa League. Club president, owner, and Italian soccer fixture Massimo Moratti sold 70% of his stake to Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir.

Mirroring Inter’s downfall, Serie A lost a Champions League position to the Bundesliga. The two entities, along with rivals AC Milan, have all had similar difficulty in modernizing their once successful approach on and off the field. Serie A’s response to neutralize speed and athleticism seems to be to through unorthodox formations. But running is a skill, too.

Mancini was a move back to basics. On the Inter manager scale, he falls somewhere between Benitez and Mourinho. The setup - four defenders, at least one holding midfielder (sometimes three), win a boring 1-0 match due to the brilliance of a David Silva or Carlos Tevez - will never inspire digital poetry. But if Italy is losing their identity, Mancini’s philosophy is in Inter’s history. And, having won the Premier League in 2012, it is also modern. 


Inter Milan were particularly active during the the winter transfer window, the black sheep of the transfer family, signing Xherdan Shaqiri and Marcelo Brozovic, and bringing in Davide Santon and Lukas Podolski on loan. 

Coming from Bayern Munich’s soccer think tank, Xherdan Shaqiri is a type of direct attacker Inter have lacked in recent years. His speed and dribbling makes him most effective in transitions. His positional flexibility lets him create from wide or through the middle. Take his hat-trick he scored against Honduras in last summer’s World Cup. The first goal, a strike from outside the box, fits in line with Mancini’s “defend, then score one brilliant goal” philosophy. The latter two, taken in transition, beating defenders at top speed, will allow the club to thrive in Europe again.

Liverpool, the side Shaqiri turned down for Inter in the transfer window, showed how the right winter signing can transform an attack. They did it twice with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, and Shaqiri will be tasked with the same responsibility. Regardless, with Shaqiri and Podolski, the player profile of Inter’s attack is clear: direct, pacy, goalscorers. 

In the months following Mancini’s hire, the club continue to hover around mid-table, and Mancini still hasn’t won a match 1-0. Shaqiri is showing he’s up for the challenge, even if Podolski struggles. Internazionale were never expected to be rebuilt in one day, four months, or a January transfer window. But they may have discovered something more important in the process.