Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Jose Mourinho had plenty of time during the long-haul trip back from China to mull over his current predicament going into the new season: where to find that spark of inspiration.
Inter may have dominated Lazio for long periods of the Super Cup, but there was little to really whet the appetite that Jose’s second season in charge is going serve up a feast of exciting football.
Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito look a potent strike-force, but what is lacking is that flash of panache to unlock the blanket defences the Nerazzurri will face throughout the campaign ahead.
Ah yes, the fantasista – the name says it all: fleet of foot, already playing two passes ahead of anyone else, the lone maverick in a sea of hard-running athletes who seem to dominate the modern game.
Jose prays for final piece of his puzzle
The regista – the deep-lying half-brother to the fantasista – is forever tugging at the heartstrings of Italian football fans.
But while the latter has flourished over the last decade, the former has become more and more of a hazy memory since Roberto Baggio hung up his pony-tail.
Suddenly the search for the perfect 10 is back in vogue.
Juventus bought Diego and AC Milan are relying on Ronaldinho, who was made aware that being a professional footballer in Italy cannot be taken lightly when he was whistled out of a Milanese nightclub last week by a group of Rossoneri revellers unhappy with the Brazilian’s nocturnal wanderings.
Fiorentina have been experimenting with Adrian Mutu playing behind Alberto Gilardino and flanked by two eager workers along the flanks, and Francesco Totti could well drop into a deeper role if AS Roma can capture a commanding target-man to operate alongside Mirko Vucinic.
Even Lazio are getting in on the act, with Francelino Matuzalem handed the ‘free-roaming role’ at the weekend, duly finding the back of the net albeit not in true fantasista fashion as the ball cannoned-off his face – but at least he was in an advanced position.
Mourinho employed Dejan Stankovic behind the front-two in Beijing, but the Serbian’s talents lie in work-rate rather then in sublime individualism, which leaves the Portuguese in something of a quandary less than two weeks before the big kick-off.
Ciro Ferrara, Leonardo, Cesare Prandelli and Luciano Spalletti have all been honing their combinations … be it 4-3-1-2, 4-2-3-1 and so forth.
So who is the number one for Mourinho?
In his mind’s eye Deco would be the dream ticket, but there is no way Carlo Ancelotti is going to make life that easy for a Champions League rival.
So with little chance of acquiring an Art-Deco, the Portuguese has turned his attention to the Dutch impressionists.
Rafael Van de Vaart and Wesley Sneijder will be the two names in the frame in the coming weeks, although the former seems to have been priced out of the running at 25 million euro.
However, it is not as if anyone is going to come cheap for Massimo Moratti, especially when you are searching the market for a work of art.
So unless the Inter owner is ready to open the piggy-bank again, the pretenders to the crown may have an early jump on the champions.
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I thought Luis Jimenez was often excellent in this role during the Mancini's last year - and whenever healthy and given the chance to play regularly.
It can be a difficult position for Inter, though, since the holding midfielders like to move forward and gum up the space without really linking strikers with the midfield. Like Chelsea, too many of these players are basically defensive midfielders at heart, better at shutting play down than generating incision or creative dynamism.
Enough with Cambiasso, Burdisso, Vieira and all their forward limitations.
And then Zanetti is always charging pointlessly forward and into the middle of the pitch with the ball whenever he gets it - also closing up space in the middle without the possibility of creating anything.
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