Will Inter Milan experience have Hodgson prepared for Liverpool?

Adrian Houghton reviews new Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson's time in Italy and asks if the experience will prepare him for life at Anfield?  

Adrian Houghton reviews new Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson's time in Italy and asks if the experience will prepare him for life at Anfield?

 
In a varied and much travelled managerial career, ranging from the United Arab Emirates to, well, Bristol, the biggest job that Roy Hodgson has had prior to this summer was at Inter Milan. So, I've delved into the archives to see just how well he got on there.

But first, here’s some background. Hodgson’s time at Inter overlapped with the early stages of Massimo Moratti’s ownership of the club, which began in February 1995. After finishing 6th in Serie A in 1994-95, Moratti allowed coach Ottavio Bianchi to spend lavishly in the close season to improve on that effort. As a consequence, Roberto Carlos, Javier Zanetti, Salvatore Fresi, Paul Ince, Benito Carbone and Maurizio Ganz were all recruited to bolster the squad. But after opening the new campaign with only 2 wins out of 6 in the league, Bianchi was sacked and Hodgson given the job on a full time basis.

The Englishman was fortunate to inherit an impressive first team, if you throw in Gianluca Pagliuca, Giuseppe Bergomi, Massimo Paganin and Nicola Berti with those who had been bought during the summer. In the winter transfer window, further strength was added with defender Alessandro Pistone and striker Marco Branca.

Ultimately, in Hodgson’s first year, Inter finished 7th in the league (hence securing a UEFA Cup place), only 5 points off Lazio in 3rd, but 19 points behind champions Milan. Compare this to the previous season with a weaker squad – one place higher, but instead 11 points off 3rd (again Lazio) and 21 points adrift of Juventus at the top. Given the players recruited and undoubtedly the money spent, there’s no doubt Moratti would have been expecting much more.

Throughout 1995-96, Inter’s form was erratic, but they did rally with five successive wins during February and March. To Hodgson’s credit, Inter had the 2nd tightest defence in the league (behind Milan, of course) and the purchase of Branca had been a successful one, netting 17 times in the league alone.

During the following summer, Moratti once again backed his manager and Hodgson was able to bring in an array of attacking talent, namely Youri Djorkaeff, Ciriaco Sforza, Kanu and Ivan Zamarano. In addition, Jocelyn Angloma and Aron Winter were drafted in to bolster defence and midfield respectively.

However, Roberto Carlos left for Real Madrid in slightly acrimonious circumstances. Hodgson had openly questioned the Brazilian’s defensive qualities, describing him as tactically “indisciplined”. Roberto Carlos retorted “Hodgson uses me badly,” a quote made whilst still at the club. In fact, the coach had deemed the player surplus to requirements, showing a preference to play Pistone at left-back.

In Italy, this decision is still met with disbelief by Inter fans, and ridicule by the majority of the remaining footballing fraternity. Moreover, Moratti did nothing to prevent it. In this YouTube clip, one Italian journalist expresses to Hodgson the general feeling held about the episode. Needless to say, Roy was rather unimpressed.

 

Inter began season 1996-97 unbeaten in their first 5 league games and negotiating their way through the first couple of UEFA Cup rounds (albeit requiring penalties to knock out Grazer AK over two legs). On the flip side though, the club was drawing too many matches, and some dissenting voices were being heard from the terraces. Towards the end of October, after a 2-2 draw at Cagliari in the Coppa Italia (after Inter were 2-0 ahead with 6 minutes left) and a disagreement after the match with goalkeeper Pagliuca (for his retaliation of punching an opponent, who had spat at him), Hodgson pondered a possible resignation.

An exit became more likely when he was sounded out together with Sven-Goran Eriksson for the vacant Blackburn Rovers job. Yet, after talks with Moratti, Hodgson agreed upon an extension to his current Inter contract with the Swede opting to take the helm at Ewood Park at the season's end. Yet, by the time this commitment had been made, affairs at Inter had already started to deteriorate yet further. Having been top at one stage, the club then won just 2 of the next 12 in Serie A, including a calamitous 4-3 home defeat to (ironically, Eriksson’s) Sampdoria, having again thrown away a lead (this time, 3-1 with 7 minutes to go).

 

Suddenly, the disquiet from the fans became much louder. Moratti was now said to be privately questioning whether he had made the right choice to retain Hodgson’s services. The Lord of Croydon (as Corriere della Sera often referred to him) saw a way out of his Inter malaise – by February, Eriksson had reneged on his promise to Blackburn and instead decided to sign a contract with Lazio. Only days later, it was announced that Roy Hodgson would be the new Blackburn manager from July. After another Moratti meeting, Hodgson agreed to stay on at Inter until then.

Amid reports of a fractious dressing-room and a coach no-longer in charge of his players, Inter soldiered on, making it through to the final of the UEFA Cup against Schalke. Having lost the first of the two legs 1-0 in Gelsenkirchen, Inter played the return tie like a team beset by fear in front of their home crowd, lacking rhythm and imagination. At last, with 6 minutes remaining, Zamarano scored to level the tie up.

Ultimately, it would take penalties to separate the two teams. The Germans triumphed, coins and bottles were subsequently thrown in Hodgson’s direction. By the next morning, with two league fixtures to be fulfilled and a Champions League place still to play for, a tearful Hodgson had concluded that he simply couldn’t take any more of the fans and their insults (as Moratti later said, “I found a man who was humiliated and destroyed”).

In Serie A, Inter ended the campaign in 3rd with a record of P34 W15 D14 L5 GF51 GA35, their best finish for 4 years. Moreover, they had significantly cut the gap between themselves and the team at the top (just 6 points behind Juventus). Their defence again impressed, but the team could only manage the same number of goals as in 1995-96, despite the heavy investment in creativity and finishing. In addition to being UEFA Cup runners up, the club had also reached the semi-finals of the Italian Cup (as they had also done in the year previous).

The job that Roy Hodgson did at Inter was solid, without being particularly spectacular. A certain improvement in his second season after making some shrewd purchases, but was this merely how he ought to have done, given the players and financial backing at his disposal? Consequently, without something tangible to show for his efforts, many an Inter fan would view Hodgson’s tenure as a failure.

One final point to make is this: it has been reported in the English press that although Roy didn’t win anything himself at Inter, it was the basis of his team that went on to be successful. One part of this statement is true since Inter won the UEFA Cup the following year and also finished 2nd in the league, 5 adrift of Juventus. But was it the basis of his team that accomplished this?

In the transfer markets of the 1997-98 season, Pistone, Paganin, Angloma, Ince, Berti, Sforza, Ganz and Branca all left the club, 4 of whom were bought by Hodgson. In the same time frame, Ronaldo, Alvaro Recoba, Ze Elias, Paulo Sousa, Diego Simeone, Taribo West and Francesco Colonnese (in particular) all arrived.

In the league, under new coach Luigi Simoni, Inter collected 10 more points than in Hodgson's final year, scoring 11 more goals (with Ronaldo in sparkling form) and conceding 8 fewer. In the UEFA Cup final against Lazio, of the starting XI and 3 substitutes used, only 3 had been bought by Hodgson, a further 3 were already there when he became manager and the other 8 had been purchased since his departure. So, once again, was that really Roy’s team?

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