With the official announcement of Nemanja Vidic to Inter, it truly marks the new era of President Thohir. As this period of transition continues to take place it is always important to reflect on the past to better build for the future. While many Interisti jubilantly rejoiced at the departure of former Inter Sporting Director, Marco Branca, and perhaps rightfully so for some of the recent mishaps, our guest writer from the SB Nation Inter Offside Community, "Drewseph" tried to tackle the challenging topic of looking at both Branca's highlights and lowlights in an even-keeled approach to better reflect on his tenure with the Nerazzurri.
Branca's Greatest Hits and Greatest Misses
"I made at least four or five incontestable errors... The season has not given us the results we were hoping for considering the potential of the squad... I am not so much disappointed by the results as by certain decisions we didn't get right, above all that we weren't able to send the right message when we knew how much needed to be reconstructed."
That's former Roma director Franco Baldini in May of 2013, taking responsibility for the team's disappointing season shortly before leaving the club. It's a remarkable mea culpa, and one that lays bare the fact that a club's director can only really be judged by one standard: how well the team he puts together performs given the resources and objectives involved.
By that simple standard, it would be easy to label Inter director Marco Branca a failure in his time at the helm of this club. But such things are never as simple as they seem, and looking beyond the pure results, and the individual transfer flops and wins, here are my personal picks for Branca's greatest hits, and worst misses, from his time at this club.
(Note: Given the lack of full transparency regarding Inter's head office goings and comings, it's hard to tell exactly which operations Branca spearheaded. Officially, he's been our No. 1 since 2010, but he was also instrumental in several of the key transfers prior to the treble season, and he was apparently out-of-pocket during the Guarin-Vucinic debacle. In other words, I have no inside information here, I'm just going with what I see.)
5. Forlan Follies
Replacing Eto'o in summer of 2011 was never going to be an easy task, especially when we needed to cut budgets at the same time. So Branca went for Diego Forlan for €5 million. Not a terrible decision by any means, especially considering the reasonable transfer fee, but the player was 32 years old, and he'd been reduced to a marginal role at Atletico Madrid, so it was actually a bigger gamble than it seemed.
But what was so infuriating was how little care Branca seemed to put into the details. Most egregiously, Forlan was cup-tied in European competitions, which we didn't notice until the forms were all notarized and the check was in the mail. Would we have signed Forlan if we knew he was ineligible? Possibly not, and we surely would have negotiated for a lower fee. Branca simply neglected to ask the right questions or read the fine print.
It also wasn't clear if we'd discussed his role at the club beforehand at all: While Eto'o had been happy to play support striker for Milito, Forlan clearly wanted to be the only Diego in town, and bellyached about playing on the wing. He ended up passing an injury-plagued season with us, scoring a paltry 2 goals, and was let go for free the next summer.
4. The Ballad of Rocchi-Carew
In last year's winter transfer window, we shipped off three of our six attacking players: Livaja, Coutinho and Sneijder. This left us with a total of three attacking players: Palacio, Cassano and Milito. We were still in three competitions at that point. We often lined up with three attackers at the same time. All our remaining attackers were over 30, and all had experienced serious injury issues in the recent past. (One had nearly died with a severe heart condition just a year prior.) Clearly, this left zero room for error - we had to have a backup.
You can tell how seriously Branca took this dilemma by the player he signed to be that backup: Tommaso Rocchi, a 35-year-old with one foot already in retirement, who had only seen the pitch three times for Lazio that season. Then one by one, all three of our strikers went down, and poor, blameless Rocchi all of the sudden became the walking symbol of our club's horrible planning and short-sightedness.
Somehow, it got even more embarrassing. Inter invited the effectively retired striker John Carew out to Milano for a trial, even though, by his own admission, he didn't feel he could get back into match fitness until the tail end of the season. (He'd previously been shooting an action film in Canada.) We passed on Carew after his try-out, retaining at least a smidgen of sanity, and then Rocchi himself got injured. We no longer had anything to play for at this point, so we threw our hands up, screamed "YOLO!" and tried fielding Ricky Alvarez as a lone striker, because what the hell else could we do? Move Ranocchia to the front just because he's tall? Oh yeah, we tried that too.
Bad luck certainly played the key role in this disaster, but a good director is supposed to plan for precisely these possibilities.
3. Everything Must Go!
The two years after the treble amounted to a long, lingering hangover for this club, as the bills from our win-at-any-cost mentality finally came due. Most problematically, we were stuck holding the contracts for a number of extremely highly-paid players who were clearly on the decline. Rustling these guys out to pasture became a priority, but instead of trying to find real buyers, Branca took the quickest, easiest way out - just tear up their contracts. In the span of a single summer, we said goodbye to Lucio, Julio Cesar, Diego Forlan, Maicon, and Sully Muntari. Our earnings for these five world-class (or once world-class) players? €3 million. Total.
Granted, there was no way we were going to see big money for these oldsters, and Lucio in particular had reached the end of the line, but it's hard to imagine we couldn't have gotten something if we'd tried a little harder. Muntari has gone on to score 11 goals for Milan since then; Maicon is showing surprisingly excellent form at Roma; Forlan has bagged a respectable 22 goals in the Brazilian league; and our dear old Julio Cesar has been periodically tipped for a return to Serie A, and remains a stalwart on the Brazilian national team. These aren't world-beating players anymore, but neither were they washed-up and valueless when we dumped them. Had we worked harder to get €2 million here, €1.5 million there, it would have gone a long way for a financially-strapped club like ours. Leaving money on the table like this has hurt us time and time again.
[Editor's note: Prior to Jose Mourinho's tenure at Inter and even despite the big money splashed at getting famous if not infamous players to don the Nerazzurri kit, the club has especially focused in recent years on scouting and building a youth system. This emphasis of building upon the youth system may be due to a Nerazzurri-less Italian World Cup 2010 squad or perhaps it was in preparation for the sustainability that Financial Fair Play (FFP) requires. While the reasons are purely speculative, what Inter has done is fill the Italian Under-23s, Under-19s, and Under-16s with academy players. Additionally with new owner Thohir, a stated emphasis has been placed on lowering the squad's age to better compete in the future. It remains to be seen how he will implement this plan].
So what do we do with this amazing youth system? We can try to be like Barcelona and use it to continually reinforce our squad. Or we can treat it like Ajax and use it as a cash machine. (I'd rather see the first, but either option has its benefits.) The problem is that we aren't doing the first option at all, and we're doing the second totally ineptly, treating our youth squad more like a 24-hour Las Vegas pawn shop.
The problem with using youth players primarily as transfer market bargaining chips, is that you're almost never thinking "is this a fair price for this player?" or "is this the right time to sell this player?" You're just thinking "how can sacrificing this player help us achieve our immediate, short-term goals?"
When you talk about investment, whether it's footballers or stocks and bonds, the two terms that come up constantly are "mature" and "peak." A fund is worthless until it matures, and predicting a stock's peak is essential if you want to cash it in. You can also decide you're in it for the long-haul, and hold onto an asset through the market's ups and downs. But we're acting like classic investment novices, rushing to sell our assets as soon as they register a gain, or else frantically dumping them when they start to slump.
Yes, it's true that we're not Barcelona (who are so superior to the majority of their competition that they have ample time to blood youngsters) or Ajax (who play in a far weaker league, and generally have more modest objectives). It's also true that there will always be players that get away - that's just the nature of the game. But it's outrageous to see the number of solid players who've come out of our youth ranks, and only one of whom (Balotelli) we intelligently cashed in on*. A truly great technical director would forge a serious system to incorporate Academy players into the senior squad, but that's probably too much to have asked of Branca. The least we could ask of him is that he worked harder to extract all the value possible from them, but he hadn't quite done that either. The youth academy remains this organization's great untapped resource.
1. L'Affaire Wesley
Branca has probably made more costly mistakes than his handling of Sneijder, but none combine poor planning, arrogance, callousness, and failure to understand basic human nature quite the way the Wesley situation did.
As soon as the dust had settled on Inter's treble year, Sneijder's possible transfer was rarely out of the news for long. It was easy to see why - in 2009/10, he had been the best creative midfielder in the world, and he should have at least been a Ballon d'Or finalist, if not the winner. Inter proceeded to offer him a huge contract renewal, nearly doubling his salary, even though he had plenty of years left on his contract, and even as the club was already planning to cut wages across the board.
Still, it didn't take long for the attention to start. Manchester United were - as Sneijder himself admits - in serious talks with him over summer of 2011, with transfer fees speculated as starting at €20 million and going all the way to €30 million. (It almost certainly would have been closer to €20, but still.) A raft of other top clubs expressed interest in him at various moments, and in summer of 2012, the top suitor had moved across town to Manchester City. All of this consistent transfer interest came as Sneijder became less and less consistent on the pitch, and his role at the club - thanks to constant niggling injuries - became less and less vital. Yet we held onto him, huge salary and all.
Then in fall of 2012, seemingly out of nowhere, Branca attempted to offer Sneijder a reduced wage. This wasn't exactly a contract extension, in the usual sense of the term - Wesley would sign up for an additional year at the club, yet make the same total amount as he would have made under his existing contract. It would have been bizarre for Wesley to accept this insulting offer, and he didn't. So Branca went public with the news, presumably in an attempt to turn fan opinion against Sneijder, and kept him off the squad until the situation was resolved. (He even banned him from using social media, like a child who misses curfew.)
[Editor's note: Relations between Sneijder and the club may have been exacerbated by social media. For example, while Sneijder flew to Los Angeles, California to rehabilitate, the tweet posted by his wife, Yolanthe, seemed to only make matters worse whereas he was unavailble due to fitness to play for Inter yet seemed physically fine to "have fun" at Universal Studios with Paris Hilton].
This strategy was a catastrophic failure. The players' union pointed out that what we were doing was possibly illegal. Sneijder began cutting an increasingly pathetic, disillusioned figure in public, and Inter fans overwhelmingly sided with him in the dispute. The Italian press started calling this an "own goal" on Inter's part. Branca himself released a series of confusing statements: claiming that Sneijder being benched was the coach's decision, that Sneijder wasn't entirely fit to play (possibly true, but not the thing you should admit when you're trying to sell a player), and that there had never been any offers to buy Sneijder (maybe technically true, in that an official contract was never faxed to Inter HQ.
Sneijder's stock plummeted right as we finally attempted to sell him. We didn't have to offer him a gigantic new contract in 2010, but we did. We could have sold him to any one of the interested, deep-pocketed buyers in 2011 and 2012, but we didn't. Instead we made him an impossible offer, cut him from the squad, and publicly spoke about him as though he was damaged goods who wasn't worth the money**.
We finally sold him to the only club that did want him, Galatasaray. As Branca put it, "They met our needs and those of Wes. We sold him for €7.5 million and came out ahead."
*To anticipate a criticism, I'm aware that we've made profits on the sales of Coutinho, Donati, etc. But selling a youth player is almost always going to give you a profit - if it doesn't, then you have a really shitty youth academy - the point is maximizing that profit, and the Balotelli sale is the only time I feel like we've done that.
**I'm reminded of the church bulletin listing in The Simpsons: "Card table for sale. Leg missing, top badly damaged, otherwise fine. One dollar, or best offer."
Please come back tomorrow as part two of Branca's Greatest Hits and Misses, the Hits part will be released. [Editor's note: Personally, it is always good to hear the worst news first before you hear the good news or at least in Branca's case].