- WORLD CUP 2002

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Friday, October 4, 2002
Inter the world of paranoia
By Roberto Gotta

If you thought supporters of Reggina, Brescia and Udinese had it bad, wait until you hear an Inter fan talking about his club.

Hector Cuper
Hector Cuper: Entrusted with bringing back Inter glory
One of the most curious phenomena of recent years has seen fans of one of Italy's most successful and best supported clubs go on an increasing paranoia trip and end up in the firm belief that there is a curse on their favourite team. It seems supporting Inter has become the Italian equivalent of being a Man City fan during the late Nineties.

The 13 year wait since Inter's last Serie A title is becoming all but unbearable for many, and a book on that subject was recently published.

Interismi, written by respected author Beppe Severgnini, reflects the miseries and discomforting frame of mind that supporting Inter now involves.

There's actually no consistent proof, in real life, that watching football through black and blue-tinted spectacles is worse than, say, being a Lazio, Roma or Napoli fan, but this sporting/social phenomenon has now taken root.

And with each adverse refereeing decision, each missed open goal, each goalkeeping mistake (not that there have been many since Francesco Toldo was signed), the suspicion grows among the Nerazzurri that this, again, will not be their year.

A sympathetic view must be taken, of course, in the light of recent events: the "we wuz robbed" cry went up in 1998 when referee Ceccarini waved play on after Juventus defender Mark Iuliano had apparently felled Ronaldo in the penalty area in a deciding match in the run-up to the Serie A title.

And only a few months ago, on May 5, Inter were away to Lazio on the last day of the season, a point ahead of Juventus who were away at Udine.

Inter went ahead twice in Rome, only for Lazio to come back and win 4-2, while Juventus scored twice early and cruised to their umpteenth Scudetto. Each time Lazio scored in that final game - once with the aid of a terribly misjudged headed back pass - you could sense Inter fans were more and more convinced fate was forever against them.

Nothing, not even a fully-fit Ronaldo or coach Hector Cuper's management skills, could ever bring back a Scudetto. It is an attitude which deepened during July and August, when Ronaldo managed to wrest himself away from Inter's grasp and publicly said the Nerazzurri will always be nearly men while Cuper is at the club.

And not even Inter's current position at the top of Serie A has managed to dampen the pessimism. Wednesday's home defeat by Olympique Lyonnais in the Champions League was seen as a sign that, whenever Inter are playing without Vieri, their attacking potential decreases dramatically despite the presence of Hernan Crespo.

With Alvaro Recoba's contribution being too often inconsistent, no inspiration coming from midfield and the defence being caught wrong-footed too many times, some Inter insiders already think Cuper is in over his head in trying to get the Nerazzurri to compete consistently.

But not everybody has bought into this depressing fog of gloom - one cannot escape the thought that Inter are leading Serie A without having once impressed their critics, who even found last Sunday's hard-fought win over Chievo unsatisfying. They noted that the team had gone behind early and had struggled mightily to get the three points through a Vieri penalty.

The nature of Serie A and the three-ring circus that surrounds it, with its lowest common denominator soccer talk-shows, mood swings and relentless criticism of referees and finger-pointing, means anything can get ugly very quickly and anything can get beautiful overnight.

So the next time Inzaghi or Del Piero fail to score, someone will always be ready to note that (perhaps) their teams' brilliance was a delusional view during the season's early weeks, and that it was their goalscoring that kept them at the top.

Everyone will concentrate on this and forget that Juventus play with more energy and cover more ground than any other team, and that Milan are keeping possession brilliantly and trying to play their way to the top.

...everyone will make the Nerazzurri favourites again on the basis that they surely MUST win it this time

By the same token, a goalscoring flurry by Vieri and Crespo might make people forget about the apparent shortcomings in organisation and fitness of the current squad, and everyone will make the Nerazzurri favourites again on the basis that they surely MUST win it this time.

And this might make someone actually consider points gained instead of looking for style points, divine intervention or gypsy curses.

But Inter fans would not buy it. So if you're watching a team that's struggling to avoid financial trouble and relegation, stop and think how lucky you are. You might have it worse, apparently. You might be supporting Inter.

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