Dear Erick Thohir,
Congratulations! Welcome to the family. You just bought a majority stake in one of the strangest, most schizophrenic, most ulcer-inducing athletic organizations the world has ever known. It’s also one of the greatest athletic organizations the world has ever known, and in time I’m sure you’ll grow to love it just as much as we do. You’ll understand if we’re all a little hesitant about change, but you seem like a reasonable and capable person. And being a reasonable person, there are a number of rather unreasonable elements of this club that will take some getting used to. So, if you’ll indulge me, I’ve assembled a list of seven points to keep in mind as you take this club into the future.
1. Recognize the assets we already have
If you had taken control of Inter at the beginning of the summer, you pretty much could have done whatever the hell you wanted. We had just finished 9th with a novice coach, and our entire squad seemed to be either over-the-hill veterans or raw youngsters. Just about anything you did would have seemed like a progressive first step. Want to sell half the team? Sure, why not. Want to hire a psychic medium as a coach to channel the spirit of Helenio Herrera? Worth a shot. Think the Inter organization would be better off forgetting about football and focusing instead on its little-known women’s softball team? What’s the harm?
But since you didn’t close the deal back then, you might have noticed that things have started to turn around for us in a number of modest yet encouraging ways. Most importantly, we now have a coach who knows what he’s doing. The team seems surprisingly eager to play for him and to implement his ideas, and if you don’t think this is a big deal, please Google "Rafa Benitez" and "Gian Piero Gasperini" to see what has happens when they aren’t. You should definitely hold onto him for a while.
I realize that your personal fantasy football team probably doesn’t include too many current Inter players, and I’m sure that’s something you’d like to change. But please take a moment to consider what you already have to work with. Your club currently employs two of the most exciting young prospects in the world in Mateo Kovacic and Mauro Icardi, and while our squad is quite light on boldfaced superstars, we do have a very solid group of squad players – the Nagatomos and Juan Jesuses of the world – who are useful to have around. You’ll likely also notice a certain contingent of aging players who seem to earn disproportionately large salaries for the amount they contribute on the pitch – Diego Milito, Walter Samuel, Cristian Chivu, Esteban Cambiasso, Javier Zanetti and Luca Castellazzi, to be precise. We know, we know. It’s been an issue for a while. But fortunately for you, all of these players are out of contract starting next summer. You’ll want to let Zanetti do whatever he wants to do (actually, that’s worth breaking out in a separate point), but otherwise feel free to let most of them run free once the season is done. They’ll understand – they’ve probably been wondering why they keep getting contract extensions themselves. But shipping them out early would only make you some needless enemies.
In other words, a lot of your work regarding the squad has already been done, or has at least been started, so you’d be advised not to create turmoil where it isn’t needed. By my count, Inter is on its third consecutive Year Zero. And unlike our two aborted Year Zeroes, this one seems to actually be laying the groundwork for a decent squad. You don’t need to reinvent this team, you just need to reinforce it.
2. Keep personal feelings in check
I know that you’ve spent the better part of a year traveling back and forth through Europe pursuing ownership of Inter. I also know that you’ve managed to scrounge up 250-300 million Euro, or whatever it actually was, to gain control of the team. You probably feel like you deserve to do what you want with it now, and I don’t blame you.
But the structure and culture of Italian football demands that you tread slowly at first. I’m sure it’s tempting to clear out some of the current upper management and bring in the people you trust, and you’ve got the right to do that here and there. But as you’ll no doubt soon discover, the innerworkings of Italian football are a morass of personal relationships and alliances and enmities that sometimes go back for generations. It’s less obviously corrupt than it once was, but it’s still kind of a mess. In other words, it’s sort of an emotional-political minefield, and it’s not a situation that a businessman from halfway around the world can simply waltz into expecting to be given fair treatment. Moratti will be an invaluable ally in navigating this vipers’ den, and you’ll be making a smart move to keep him and his son involved with the club.
You have also mentioned you’d be interested in seeing an Indonesian player on the squad. We all assume you mean Radja Nainggolan, since he’s the only Indonesian player that any of us have ever heard of. We’ll gladly take him – he’s a good player and he’d be great for your PR back home – but please don’t make a habit of buying players for nationalistic reasons. We’re brothers of the world here. It’s even in our charter.
3. Learn from your predecessors’ mistakes
By now, you’ve probably decided to get rid of Marco Branca. I would have mentioned that in its own separate point, but I assumed you were planning this already. In any case, replacing him will be the most important early decision you’ll have to make, and a closer look at his mistakes will be instructive.
A lot of his issues are obvious – selling key players without really replacing them, toggling chaotically between financial austerity and sudden spending sprees, attempting to hedge his bets by buying large groups of mediocre players rather than focusing in on the right ones. Yet his biggest issues are probably his inability to close the deal, and his tendencies to flinch at key moments. Over the past few years, Inter have come extremely close to signing Paulinho, Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Mauricio Isla, Alexsander Dragovic, Erik Lamela, Lucas and a number of others. In most cases, we were interested in these players long before the clubs they eventually signed for had even heard of them. In every case, Branca racked up massive man-hours and huge travel bills tying up all the loose ends, only to either opt out at the last second, or else find himself outmaneuvered by smarter transfer market minds. Had he managed to actually sign even a couple of these players, Inter would be in far better shape than it currently is.
I don’t know that much about you, but you seem to pride yourself on getting complex deals done. Keep it up.
4. Meet the Ultras
Next time you’re in Milan, take a long, hard look at the northern end of the San Siro. You will notice it’s probably the only section of the stadium that is completely full, and that it seems to be filled with crazy people. In fact, for your first match as club owner, these people are planning a coordinated campaign with rival fans to intentionally trigger a stadium ban and a fine that you’ll have to pay (get used to it, it happens a lot) in order to protect their God-given rights to yell ethnically-offensive things at each other during football matches. Like I said, crazy people.
Italian football owners have maintained a long-standing tolerance of these crazy people, even when doing so seems to run counter to their own best interests. It might be nice to clamp down on them a little bit. For one, it surely makes sense to take away some of their special privileges if they keep costing you money, and it would go a long way toward attracting more families, women, minorities, and overall non-crazy people people to the stadium if you make it clear that you won’t stand for any racism and hooliganism on your watch.
At the same time, these people will make your life very difficult if you get on their bad side early on. As misguided and emotionally stunted as so many of them are, they are also the bedrock of support for the team, and no matter how well you spread the brand across the world, this motley collection of weirdoes will keep showing up through thick and thin, providing the kind of esprit de corps and in-match ambiance that money simply can’t buy. Your relationship with them will surely get rocky from time to time, but it’s a relationship that deserves your attention.
5. Let Zanetti do what he wants
No, seriously. Don’t even question this point. He deserves it, and even the club’s most rational, pacifistic fans will be baying for your blood if you lay a finger on him.
6. Build a stadium
This probably should have been point No. 1. If you’re not planning on building a new stadium, you just made the most pointless investment of your life.
7. Respect the history of this club
You aren’t the first big-money foreigner to purchase a historic European club, and you certainly won’t be the last. But while you might look at the successes that Chelsea, Man City and PSG have experienced in recent years with admiration, remember that you’re in a far more delicate situation. Before the takeovers, Chelsea was better known for its fans than anything that took place on the pitch, Man City was the pitiable younger sibling of a crosstown goliath, and PSG was famous for being the club that few Parisians even knew existed. Inter is a different animal all together.
You don’t seem like the type to break the transfer fee record every window, and that’s good to hear. We tried that policy with this club once, and it didn’t really work. It doesn’t suit us. The kinds of fair-weather fans who follow hype and success find us endlessly frustrating, and they never stick around for long. We’re at our best when we’re out there beating the big glory teams on their own fields while the mainstream football press grumbles about our tactics. We’re the kind of people who sell off Fabio Cannavaro and make Marco Materazzi a club icon. We’re kind of an odd bunch.
Despite being composed of far-flung foreign players, Inter has an identity that shouldn’t be tampered with. It’s often a dysfunctional one, to be sure, and we’re all eager to see you bring some genuine modern business know-how and branding expertise to this institution. But that identity, mutable as it is, is something special, something with integrity. It’s an identity forged by years as a national laughingstock, and also by years achieving the sort of glory that no other Italian club can match. Inter fandom is a deeply complex form of psychosis, and it’s a psychosis our last owner suffered from alongside us. Give it the proper respect, and you’ll find Inter fans more than willing to meet you halfway.
For good and bad, this is certain to be the most exciting business venture you’ve ever launched. Here’s to a long and happy relationship.