Season Review: Defenders

Lucio and Nagatomo - Defenders.

With all the turmoil surrounding the club right now, it may seem a little strange that we are taking the time to look back on last season. For me, these reviews provide a tiny bit of respite from the chaos that is Inter at the moment. Instead of taking another shot or popping another Valium, why not join us in a soothing look back at our defenders and their performance last season? It isn't quite as good as petting a puppy, but I personally guarantee you will be distracted for at least five minutes (maybe even mildly amused). We can all obsess and worry later. (Did I mention that we no longer have a coach? Again? Yikes)

Quick reminder: MAD's comments are in black; Johonna's are in blue.

Lots of people are pointing at the defense as the part of the team that failed the rest of the club. That may be true, but I didn’t see it that way. The defense had a tough, tough time with injuries and new people trying to integrate into the club. In January, we picked up 2 new starters into the defense – some might say that we needed the extra bodies considering the injury to Samuel and the poor first half of the season by Matrix and Cordoba – but anyway you look at it, bringing in new, young players and expecting similar results to a player like Walter Samuel is unrealistic and a little naïve.

As a rule, I like defenders. Strikers are flashy and attacking midfielders provide pizzazz, but for me, there is nothing better than a perfectly timed tackle or an amazing save from a keeper (what do you bet this is related to my love of bass players?). Anyway, many of the players in this section are very near and dear to my heart so they may experience a bit of a grade bump accordingly.


Tutti Pazzi Per Materazzi
I dont care what you all say - Tutti Pazzi per Materazzi.

Marco Materazzi

The soon to be 38 year old defender had a very down season this year. He played in 11 games total 8 of which took place in Serie A – fully half of those appearances were pretty putrid. Marco played well in the SuperCoppa and in the other Coppa game he played in. Never nimble, Marco looks like he lost about another yard of pace and his coordination suffers from not being on the field regularly.

The truth is that we all know that Marco’s true value is in the locker room with the boys telling jokes and/or kicking young player ass. Hire him as an assistant already and be done. The thing is that I don’t think that Marco knows that it’s over, yet.

Alright. I admit it: Marco is not as good as he was. I get it. I cant help it though, I see him for what he was and not for what he is. Plus, there is no denying the good work he does behind the scenes. Just look how the players go to him to celebrate - it is important. I will agree with MAD, his pitch days are quite likely over. Unlike him, though, I think Marco knows it and is making plans accordingly. I would hate to see him retire over the summer; let the man get his ovation in front of his fans at the San Siro (then he can come to the MLS for a season so I can more easily stalk him). He can then take his rightful place in the front office and contribute to the greater glory of Inter.

Score:

3.0 for on the field, 7.0 for dressing room, so call it 5.0 for the season.

6 I simply cant give him anything less. I dont care.

Ivan Cordoba

At one time, Ivan Cordoba was one of my favorite players. In his prime, Cordoba could run down the small but quick and stay in there tough against the strong. I just love his attitude. But, I just don’t like seeing him on the field anymore and it makes me feel guilty to say that, considering how long he’s been a loyal servant of the club. He’s still fast but he’s not nearly as coordinated as he used to be and his reaction time is waaaaaay down. Cordoba is 3 years younger than Materazzi but I think that they are in roughly the same place career-wise. Cordoba played in 30 games this season including 22 Serie A games. Fully a third of those games he was poor to WTF! Cordoba could still come back next season as a spot performer – I hope – but I would prefer it if he retired as a player instead of a healthy scratch.

Cordoba still has a little juice in him yet
You get a ball past this guy - go ahead, I dare you.

Cordoba is a beast - he just is. Unfortunately, his body will no longer do what he wishes. And that makes me sad. He is true warrior for the team and I am profoundly grateful for his service. He stepped into a bad situation when Samuel got injured and he managed to pull out some pretty ok performances. Sure, there were a couple stinkers, but they seemed to correspond to generally bad performances by the team so it is hard for me to single Ivan out specifically. I wish I could remember the game, but I do have clear memories of Cordoba saving our bacon at least once this last season. That really aught to count for something. Of course, I also clearly remember the look frustration and disappointment when he missed a tackle he could have done in his sleep two years ago. That just about killed me. His time may be just about over, but like Matrix, I want him to have his moment of glory at the San Siro before he hangs up his boots for good (sniffle).

Score:

5.5 Not many 35 year olds can still play 30 games in a season and he played most of them adequately. The lows were really, really low though.

6 A bit for old time's sake and a bit for those bacon saving moments. I know my glasses have rose colored lenses, but, come on, it's Ivan Freakin' Cordoba.!

Walter Samuel - woof
Defenders really are the best.

Walter Samuel

As is usual when Walter has a major injury, we miss him terribly. Walter played in 15 games this season, but it didn’t really seem like it, just running through the games in my head it seemed like he played a lot less, but it was 15 total. Only 10 of them were Serie A games and two were the very short run outs he got in May for around 20 minutes each.

Samuel didn’t really have a bad game, although the games against Atletico and Tottenham weren’t exactly good either. I miss him a lot and the security in the back that he provides. Samuel is 33 and one has to wonder if he can come back from this injury to be the player that we need.

Samuel has the best game face ever. When he went down, I knew we were in for trouble. Seeing him back on the pitch in May was a joy. I was worried that, at his age, he would not be able to come back from this sort of injury again. But I was wrong. He worked his tail off and I feel he has the determination to come back. I know he is ageing, but I think he has at least a year in him - or I hope that is the case. We need someone to help bring up the younguns. Anyway, he didn't play all that often last season (MAD has the stats), but as I recall, when he did play, he played well.

Score:

7.0 By and large he was very good when he was able to play.

7 I agree. For what he played, he played well.

Cristian Chivu

I am having a hard time putting my thoughts together for a review of Chivu’s season. Was he used a lot by the coaches? Yes, until Yuto took his spot, he played in 37 games this season, mostly as a left fullback – a position that he’s not thrilled to play but makes a sacrifice for the team. That’s a plus. Did I think that he played well? Not really. I really didn’t like his game either as a fullback or as a centerback, frankly. I mean, he had some nice games but a quick scan of my game reviews shows that I was very down on him – and the after-taste of this season, as it relates to Chivu, isn’t a good overall feeling.

So I am left to grade a player who tried his best, sacrificed for the team but was perhaps lacking. Do I think he’ll turn it around next season? No, I don’t. I also think that he might be slowing down some on the wrong side of 30, and speed was never his best asset. He would be a quality reserve, but his contract’s enormous and I don’t know how he’d take the demotion.

Umm... I must tread carefully here lest I bring the wrath of Kirby down upon me. Plus I have the problem of liking Cris personally but not his playing so much this season. He was struggling at left back a bit last season and we all thought we would give him a chance at centerback. He played a few games in that position, but not really long enough to build a relationship with Lucio (at least, not one like Samuel has) or Cordoba. I think he has potential there - at least, I like him better in the center than on the side (where he is a card magnet). Also, he is a team favorite. I think he sees himself struggling more than he would like and has quit the Romanian National Team accordingly (and he was their captain). I think that I am willing to give him another chance and a bit more time to build a connection with someone in the center.

Score:

5.5 Half a season decent, half a season terrible, a bonus point for effort and teamwork.

6 Extra point for Kirby.

Ranocchia - freakin' adorable
Is this kid wonderful or what?

Andrea Ranocchia

We all know that Ranocchia is the future of this club. If he pans out the way he should, we will be looking at one of the greats of the Italian game in our lifetime. Frogboy played in 26 games this season all told for Inter and in only 4 of them did he fail to play the entire game. Of those 26 games, I can remember only 2 that were really bad – the loss to Parma and the nightmare he had against Schalke, including the own goal. He had some iffy games as well but the vast majority of his outings with Inter were very, very positive. A highlight of his was the entire month of February – minus the JuBe game – where he crushed it almost every game for a month. And the beautiful boy is only 23 years old.

If Frogboy can get his knee issues sorted out and we put in a rotation of Lucio, Samuel and Ranocchia we will be sitting very pretty at the center back position next season and for seasons to come.

MAD and Ranocchia sittin' in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G... I think it is quite clear that MAD has a huge crush on this kid. And I have to say, I agree. He started a bit shaky and had some crazy scary moments, but considering he was thrown into deep end, he has done swimingly (did you catch that... deep end... swimingly. Wit!). And even better, he seems to be loving it. He has a few issues around his knee, but I think he is motivated to whatever it takes to make it work. He has grown enormously over the last four months and I cant wait to see what he does next season.

Score:

8.0 He gets bonus points for being young and adapting incredibly well. If there is a bright light for this season, this is it.

8.5 He gets that extra half a point for overall cuteness.

Lucio

To my mind if this team had a hero this season not named Zanetti, then it has to be Lucio. Lucio played 47 games this season and I don’t think that he had a bad one in the mix. There were a few where he was just average, and he had his moments in several… but that’s all they were, moments in a game where he might have made a wrong choice. He certainly didn’t have a whole game of bad choices.

If there was a glue to hold the defense together it was Lucio. He played with Chivu, Matrix, Cordoba, Samuel and Ranocchia as his partners. And like I said, I don’t recall him having a terrible game with any of them. The best part of Lucio game is that it really looks like he could play like this for at least a couple more seasons. He didn’t seem to have lost any steam from last season to this one despite being 33.

There are old defenders and then there is Lucio. Inter gets a lot of flack about their aging squad, but it seems to me that if they can play as well as Lucio then they aught to play. I know we fans are all shocked at the number of goals Inter allowed this season but think of how much worse it would be if not for Lucio. He isn't perfect: with 10 yellows he has the highest card count on the team, but he provided the perfect balance for Ranocchia's youthful exuberance and inexperience. He is weighing his options right now and I sincerely hope Inter offer him a renewal. He is a great roll model for the youngsters coming up and I think, of all our back line geezers, he may just have the most left in the tank.

Score:

8.5 The rock of the backfield this season gets the best score of all the defenders, hands down.

8.5 Sounds good to me as well. Certainly, I dont think it should be any lower.

Douglas Maicon

What a disappointing season for Maicon this year. Looking back at my game reviews I notice that I wasn’t believing what I was seeing in September and the beginning of October regarding his performance. By the time Halloween and November rolled around I had to face the truth.

Maicon was stinky this season, perhaps his first really bad season in Black and Blue. Then came the injuries that wiped out the rest of November and December. Once he came back in January, Maicon was closer to being his old self, but the truth is, the defensive part of his game really fell apart on him and it’s a shame because he really worked on it when he got to Italy so that he could be a complete player. If I am reading the stat sheet correctly, Maicon put together all of his assists in the second half of the season and he scored his only goal of the season in April. That’s quite the turnaround for the offensive part of his game, but the defense was lacking all year.

After all the will-he-wont-he over the summer, I am starting to think he shoulda just gone already. I dont know where Maicon's head was this season, but it wasn't with the squad in Milan. He went from being arguably the best full back in the world to Douglas Who? in the space of a month. He, too, struggled with injury and the Post Mou Malaise that infected the team throughout Rafa's tenure. At least Leonardo was able to shake a little sense in him. Of course, it could be that his relatively poor performance this year is just the result of the aforementioned injury and World Cup induced fatigue, but I cant shake the feeling there is something else going on. Now, I love Maicon - he is great in the dressing room and on the pitch - but I am really starting to hate that thing in the Maicon suit that has been coming in his place a bit too often this last season. He is easy to recognize: slow, uninterested, and much too concerned with trying for a goal to actually defend. If that's the guy who will be showing up next season then I say sell sell sell. The real Maicon, he is welcome any time.

Score:

6.5 The second half offensive surge was a huge high, as was the slightly better defending. But the first dozen games of the season were generally bad ones for Maicon.

8 for Maicon (when he shows up), 4 for that other guy.

Yuto Nagatomo

Like Pazzini, it was really stunning to see a player make the leap from relegation fighter to Champions League perennial like Yuto did. It was a great thing to watch as he was inserted here and there in the beginning and then with a little more regularity and then finally, he was given the chance to make the position his and damned if he didn’t.

Yuto doesn’t really have any stats to show how his season went because he played relatively little amounts of time (20 apps and 12 full games – the 8 partial games were for on average 20 minutes or less generally), but once he really became the left fullback he might have had one bad game, but I didn’t think it was that bad, really. The Parma game in April was a bad time for the team in general, but I didn’t think that Naga was the one to lose that game for us.

Things I like about Naga’s game are his effort, speed and technical ability for a fullback. He never stops motoring and working. He runs the sideline like he’s an electric bunny on a greyhound track. And he can pass, shoot and tackle with either foot. What I don’t like about his game is that like all attacking fullbacks he can get out of position easily and his size can be a detriment.

Whoever thought of bringing this guy to Inter is a genius. Not only is he a good player in a position we had been struggling in previously, but he is a marketing gold mine! The fans love him, the team loves him... All around this is a great signing. As for his game, I think he struggled in the defensive aspect of his game at the beginning - especially when asked to mark much larger forwards. He would get forward too much and not be able to get back to defend, leaving the center backs high and dry. By April and May, though, he was finally starting to really hit his stride at Inter, so much so that he was benching Chivu. He is another player that I am eager to see grow and progress next season. I think he could be great. Defensively, his speed and low center of gravity helps him to more easily shield the ball. Offensively, they help him to get past the opposition full backs, turn them, and avoid being muscled off the ball (sort of like Messi). I think a summer with the squad and a little continuity will do wonders for him.

Score:

7.0 Once he got going as the left fullback, Naga made the position his own and I believe outplayed Chivu in the second half of the season. The jury is still out if Naga can hold up to a whole season.

7.5 half a point more for those abs in the video. How do you say "Ripped" in Japanese?

Javier Zanetti: Football God
I cannot conceive of an Inter without this man.

Javier Zanetti

Once again there can be no doubt that the hero of the season was Javier Zanetti. He played 52 games and almost 5000 minutes of football. Did I mention that he turns 38 this season?

With Zanetti we all know it’s not about the goals, even though he made 2 of them this season (Champions League and Club World Cup). You buy the Leadership Package when you roll your 1973 Zanetti off the lot and into the street. If there was a Leadership Job award for a team in Serie A, it would have gone hands down to Il Capitano for turning around the sinking ship and righting it in the dressing room.

Zanetti had a few bad games, maybe 6 or 7 this season, definitely a few of those came in the Champions League, but I am willing to let it slide simply because of the sheer amount of games he played this season and the job both on and off the field that he did. He’s a monster and I proclaim it now and loud, There Will Never Be Another One Like Him, Ever.

I think this season we learned that while Zanetti is a football God, he is a god with human-ish shortcomings... or at least lungs. This season for the first time in a long time, Zanetti missed a couple games due to injury. If you recall, he took a ball to the chest during the Palermo Inter game and suffered a post-traumatic pneumothorax. Anyway, that kept him out for almost a month - which is almost unheard of for our captain. Still and all, he managed to make his millenium (his 1000th career game) while holding the team together, body and soul. I dont believe the second half rally would have been possible without Zanetti and his leadership skills. All you need to do is watch Pupi celebrate a goal to know how much he means to this team: without fail he goes to the bench to celebrate with his teammates not on the pitch. Every single game he takes the time to show them they are important to the continuing success of the team. I literally dont know what we will do without him when that fateful day finally comes. He is without peer.

Score:

10.0 He held the team together and he never backed down from any of the issues that surrounded us. Plus, he played this football game pretty well, too.

Javier Zanetti is a perfect 10.

review keepers
Best bunch of keepers around.

GOALKEEPERS

I was worried about our keepers when Mou took his goal keeping coach, Silvinio Louro, with him to Real Madrid. Silvinio meant so much to Julio Cesar that he sent Silvinio a replica of the Goalkeeper of the Year award he won last season. I thought that to lose such a close friend in conjunction with the heart-wrenching WC loss might be too much for our emotional boy. Then Rafa (or maybe the club) brought in Alessandro Nista and I was skeptical. His last gig was the keeping coach at Juventus. Before that, it is a string of provincial and Serie B teams. Not the best CV. Fortunately, he didn't ruin Julio Cesar and Castellazzi seems to be doing just fine under him. Still, with the new coach will likely come another keeping coach - hopefully he will be nearly as good as Silvinio (I miss him almost as much as Mou).

Paolo Orlandoni

There’s not much to say about Paolo. It’s hard to see how he’s a credible 3rd Goalkeeper at 39-ish years old. I was certain that he would retire last season, but I was wrong. I don’t recall seeing his contract renewal on the news collectors. Anyway, he played in one game this season, care to guess which one it was?

Orlandoni is not a bad person but he is not the best keeper in the world. It must extremely difficult to find a half-way decent player who is willing to maybe play one game a year. He was going to retire last season, but when Toldo hung up his boots, Paolo stayed on for another year. Then, much to his surprise, at 38 he makes his Champions League debut. It did not go well. But you can hardly blame him - this was his sixth game in five years. He is loyal, though, I will give him that. I wonder if he will stay on.

Score:

4.0 That Werder game will stick in my craw, not because we lost, but because we walked in handing the game to them.

5 Like I say, it was hardly his fault.

Luca Castellazzi

The soon to be 36 year old Lizard King played 20 games this season and generally speaking I thought he was very adequate for a second Keeper. His 15 Serie A games go something like this for me: 9 very good, 4 very bad and 1 meh. He has the reaction time to block shots and he has the prerequisite height but I wish that he was braver in leaving his line. He just looks like he’s hesitating too much and I don’t know why. I think he’s a lock to come back next season and I have to say that I would welcome him back if he can hold onto his form.

For someone making his transition into a big team, he performed remarkably well. For sure he was not expecting to play 20 games this season. Now, I love Toldo (like bunches and bunches) but I think that Luca performed at least as well as Toldo would have, maybe even a little tiny bit better. Plus, his obvious enthusiasm at making his Champions League debut was infectious. I think he stepped into crisis and did his best. Really, I think he is the best second keeper in the league.

Score:

6.5 The highs outweigh the lows and he seems like a good, solid individual as well as player, which is important in a backup keeper.

7 I think he did very well considering where he came from, his age, and where he ended up. Plus, he seems ok with the role of second keeper. That kind of skill willing to ride the bench doesn't happen every day.

Julio Cesar

I am not going to cast disparaging remarks on Luca Castellazzi here, I would have done it in his own section of this review, but we only lost 4 Serie A games with Cesar between the sticks. Do I think that we would have won more with him instead of Castellazzi? Yes. I don’t blame Castellazzi for not being as good a keeper as Cesar, but I definitely think that we would have been better off in the first half of the season if Cesar were there to bail us out until we got our collective heads together in the second half of the season.

Let’s face it, it was a down year for Cesar any way you look at it. He had a nightmare two games against Bayern. The Parma game continues to haunt my reviews as we were just awful – including Cesar. On the other hand, I have lost count on the number of times he has saved our collective asses with a miracle save. More than any other Goalkeeper, Cesar has an incredible range on 2 axis. He can come out at speed to the top of his area and he can dive at almost inhuman distance. His reaction time is very good but he lacks a little of the technical skill at goalkeeping. He doesn’t catch clean, naturally and he often jumps into attackers feet first with his hands and head covering near post, which is a no-no.

Oh my god, I love him so much. He is the bestest and most wonderful keeper in the whole entire world and if I didn't think it would annoy you all, I would just put four lines of ♥'s instead of a review. As I said, I was worried that his form would dip a bit with Silvinio gone and then there was that terribly tragic WC loss (he cried like a small child - it broke my heart) and his back injury, but I think, in the end, he is still the best keeper in the Serie A. That fascist across town can suck it because my beautiful JC is five times the keeper he could ever hope to be. And Buffon, while still formidable, is clearly on the decline. So ya, Julio Cesar is a golden god and I am going to treasure every moment with him until his contract is over and he moves back to Brazil (he has a deal with his wife).

Score:

8.0 He had a couple of stinkers this season, but the sheer number of times this man saves our bacon from a defensive mistake is worth almost another defender on the field.

10 ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥


And that brings our walk down memory lane to an end. I suppose, that also means the 2010/11 season is finally over and put to bed. Now there is nothing for it but to confront the future - the coachless, transfer-ridden future.

FORZA INTER

There is always one player we can take comfort from and be inspired by:

Follow this blog on twitter @InterOffside. You wont be sorry!

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