Introducing Belfodil and Icardi
Walter Mazzarri has brought new hope to Inter fans around the world for a much better season than the one we witnessed in 2012-13.
A hugely important part of the optimism for the upcoming campaign comes from two of the Nerazzurri’s latest signings, Ishak Belfodil and Mauro Icardi. Tuesday at lunch time, the young attacking duo were introduced to the media at Pinzolo's Paladolomiti.
Sitting alongside Inter sporting director Piero Ausilio, they spoke about their decisions to join Inter and their excitement for the future at the club.
Belfodil was first to speak, and the French striker told the press of the help and respect he’s received while training during his fasting during Islam's holy month of Ramandan: "It's obviously not easy to train during Ramadan but the coach and staff are helping me a lot and I'll still try to give everything, especially as preseason is crucial."
This has obviously meant he hasn’t been able to be fully included in Mazzarri's tough regime, but he still spoke appreciatively about the work the new Inter coach has been doing with the squad: “He's someone who loves his job, who never gives up, he's right behind us to make sure we can always do better."
He then went on to explain why he changed his number from 18 to 7: "I had at first chosen 18 from the numbers available, out of respect to [Ezequiel] Schelotto, then I asked the club and they told me that it wasn't an issue. I've always preferred 7." This further suggests that Inter are actively looking to remove Schelotto from the squad this summer.
His change in number did disappoint me slightly as I was hoping Belfodil would edit the 18 shirt number to read 1+8 as older fans of the Nerazzurri will remember happening when Ronaldo took the number 9 from Ivan Zamorano. I think that nostalgic nod to the Chilean favourite would’ve really endeared him to fans, though I am hoping he can do that anyway with his performances on the pitch as Inter’s latest number 7.
He was asked who his hero was as a kid: "When I was young, I always loved Ronaldo." If the 21-year-old can be half as good as the Brazilian legend then we should see some good things from the forward. He said he prefers to play as a centre-forward, but can play anywhere in the offensive third. If Mazzarri does indeed pair him upwith Icardi -- which I am hoping to see him do a lot -- I imagine he will play a similar role to Ronaldo, while his Argentine teammate will hold the position ahead of him as the centre forward, similar to his hero, Gabriel Batistuta.
After Belfodil had a chance to thank Parma and their fans for his time there last season, attention turned to his strike partner Icardi, who spoke a lot about what it means to him to sign for Inter.
He spoke of his breakthrough to the first team from his two seasons in the Primavera at Sampdoria and how Maxi Lopez's injury gave him his chance -- a chance that saw him become a regular starter for Sampdoria, and how the impact he made gained interest from many clubs.
It was Napoli and Inter who were the closest to signing him back in January, but Icardi chose Inter because: “it's a great club in which I can continue to develop.” I won't argue with his thinking.
I believe a factor that probably stood out for the young Argentine would've been the large community of his compatriots within the club. His admiration for Inter captain Javier Zanetti was plainly obvious when he revealed that the legend has given him a lot of encouragement already: "I spoke to him at the end of the season, we chatted a lot. He told me he would be waiting for me. I think after Maradona and Messi he's the greatest-ever Argentinian player, and everyone knows it."
The hitman then went on to talk about another compatriot, Diego Milito, whose boots he will be filling for the start of the season while the older striker recovers from injury: "It's a huge responsibility for me, but also a great opportunity to be here and try to do well. We all know Milito's a great player, but when I get my chance I'll always help my team-mates and the side to the best of my ability.”
He went on to say how he expects to learn from his mentor, Milito: “I'm still young and I can improve a lot over the years and that process starts now. In terms of my technique, the tactical side, my movement... everything."
While he's excited by learning from a player like Milito, it is another Argentinean striker that has played for the Nerazzurri who he really wants to emulate -- Batistuta. Unlike the Fiorentina legend, I’m sure he will score many more than two goals Batistuta claimed for the Nerazzurri.
He reiterated his desire to do well for Inter when he was told that his shirt was the biggest seller so far: “I hope to repay their faith by doing what I do best, scoring goals.”
On the subject of goals, he was asked to compare himself and Belfodil to the club’s bitter rival Juventus’ new forward line: "Tevez and (Fernando) Llorente are already two established top players who have won a lot. We're young and I hope to one day achieve what they have. A player always dreams of doing the best he can."
Belfodil added: "Juve are favourites but all the other sides will do everything they can to have a good season."
They are, of course, both right. Juventus are a very strong team that has become even stronger with their latest acquisitions, but they are also a team Icardi twice helped Sampdoria beat twice last season: "No team is unbeatable; you never know what's going to happen over 90 minutes. Last year at Sampdoria we beat Juventus twice, and we were just trying to stay up..."
I really like the enthusiasm and belief he is showing that Inter could put up a great fight in the league with his help.
His desire to do well with the Nerazzurri is plain for all to see as he explained how things are going for him at the Pinzolo training camp: "We all know that Inter has always been one of the world's best sides. What's struck me most now is the work we're doing. Despite the fact that coaching staff and a number of players are new to the club, we're working very well, doing all we can to get to know each other better and have a great season. Being here is a dream come true. Obviously, I also dream of winning a lot with this team, but for now I'm just focused on the here and now."
Focusing on the ‘here and now’ is all everyone in the team and the fans can do this season. After last year’s disastrous campaign, no one is expecting a Scudetto win. What is expected however, is a vast improvement in the final standings and a return to European competition, a feat I’m confident Mazzarri can achieve with the club.
Once that has been achieved the club can focus on returning to glory led by a strike force that hopefully will strike fear into opponents' defences just as Ronaldo and Batistuta once did.