Juventus have usurped Inter Milan as the model for Serie A success
Whatever the circumstances of the respective clubs, whatever the differences in league positions, the Derby d'Italia is always a special match between two rivals who boast great history and similar objectives but very different philosophies.
While Juventus are fond of the Italian brand -- they rely on Italian players and Italian management and are owned by one of the most famous Italian families -- Inter is a side that welcome everyone, believe in taking an international approach to football and are owned by an Indonesian businessman. While both clubs have endured heartbreak as well as great success, it was thought they would be targeting similar objectives this season, even if Juve were participating in the Champions League when Inter had no European duties to contend with.
It all started so very well for the Nerazzurri, and by the time the two teams faced off in mid-October for the first time this season, Roberto Mancini's team were third with 16 points after seven matches, while the Bianconeri were in 12th place with a measly eight points. A 0-0 scoreline was all Inter could achieve at home against their most hated rivals, but after managing several impressive wins thereafter, the Nerazzurri occupied top spot in the league table by early December by playing a defensively sound game that revolved around physical aggression and great organization.
As for Juventus, that draw failed to inspire wins in their next matches, with mediocrity still reigning supreme, and that culminated in a loss to the Neroverdi. "They fall against Sassuolo, and it's chaos," the Corriere dello Sport headline read on Oct. 29. Two days later, the Bianconeri won the first game of a 15-match win streak by beating Torino in the Derby della Mole. They haven't lost a Serie A match since and now occupy the top spot in the league. As for Inter? They lie in fifth place, a full 10 points behind Juve, having conceded nine goals in their past five matches. How quickly things change in football.
According to the Nerazzurri's former goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca, Mancini's men never boasted a great defence but simply a superhero in the form of Samir Handanovic, who pulled off marvelous saves to rescue points for the side and mask the inefficiencies of a poorly balanced team. He might be right.
Inter have the third-best defensive record in the league, after Juve and Napoli, but eight Serie A sides have conceded fewer shots on goal, and that includes the likes of Sassuolo and Torino. As for Handanovic, he has managed three man-of-the-match performances for the club. No Inter player has managed more.
For all of Inter's alleged defensive strength, it must be noted that when it came to scoring goals, they suffered. Juve's BBC back-line, comprised of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli, has guaranteed the club security and countless clean sheets, but the team also boasts a front line that though young in age and lacking in experience work beautifully together as well as with the midfield. Their playing formation offers all-around balance to ensure offensive strength as well as defensive security.
On a poorly balanced team, Inter's midfield is comprised of defensive-minded individuals ready to impose their physical strength. As such, they were never going to contribute much to an attack desperately in need of help and creativity. Rather than remedy that particular problem, Mancini was allowed to buy yet another striker in hopes that his new arrival would effectively convert the few chances the team manages to create, rather than bringing in a man who simply helped the squad create more.
It is decisions such as these that separate good clubs from the great ones. Spending money isn't necessarily the answer. While many papers are quick to point to Juve's huge revenue as the reason for their success, they must recognize the failures of clubs such as Inter to build upon their sporting success and increase their revenue streams, rather than squandering their cash on poor decisions, many of which were made in various transfer markets.
Only four years ago, the Nerazzurri were ranked in the top 10 of the Deloitte Money league. They now sit in 19th place with decreasing revenues and increasing pressure, as there is fear they will not qualify for the Champions League yet again, despite investments made on the market.
Since they won the treble, no significant efforts were made to grow the Inter brand, to seek new revenue streams or widen the horizons, something Erick Thohir is now desperate to do in order to compete.
Juve is the model because, despite their suffering on pitch humiliations at a time the Nerazzurri were collecting trophies, the effort and money invested in a long-term project paid off and resulted in record revenues and sporting brilliance. Don't be fooled by what the papers tell you: Juve are not successful because of their larger revenue streams or wonderful branding -- Milan still have a bigger name in football and earn more in commercial revenue. Juventus' success, hard work and cautious spending at the start of this project are the reasons for their impressive fiscal growth, and for that they must be applauded. They earned every penny they made.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Minarzouki.