At the beginning of September, Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni and Roma boss Zdenek Zeman faced off at the San Siro, on the second matchday of fixtures in the new Serie A season. However, the pair had history, having been locked in discussion some four years ago at Belgrade airport. At that time, Zeman, after many years coaching in Italy with Palermo, Foggia, Lazio and Roma, was in charge at Red Star Belgrade and Stramaccioni held a post as the head coach of Roma’s youth team.
The Romans were on their way back to Italy after a tournament in Serbia and Stramaccioni spoke to Zeman, who had just seen his side lose a derby against Partizan Belgrade the previous day. “Mister, why don’t you write a tactical book for young managers like me? I am very interested in your methods and your style of football.” Zeman, as usual with a cigarette in his hand, replied “Well, young man, I want to be a manager for many years to come and I want to keep my secrets to myself.”
Stramaccioni was born in Roma and has always been a Giallorosso. When he was a promising defender and played for Bologna’s youth team, every Saturday evening he would catch a train to Rome, attending every home Roma match as a season ticket holder. Stramaccioni could always be seen in the Stadio Olimpico’s Curva Sud. During the 1994/95 campaign, the hopeful defender picked up a horrific knee injury which ended his playing career before he had even turned professional. He was not ready to turn his back on the game he loved however and opted to move into coaching.
Stramaccioni began his coaching life with Romulea, a small club from the capital, before completing a dream move to Roma, coaching at his beloved club. The promising coach remained at Roma for six years, winning many trophies, playing attractive football and developing a number of young talents for life with the Giallorossi first team.
At the start of the 2011/12 campaign, Stramaccioni headed to Inter, joining one of the most highly regarded youth systems in Italy. In Milan, the Roman instantly made a splash and in March 2012, the Nerazzurri won the NextGen Series (a Champions League for youth teams) beating favourites Ajax.
After the tournament success, Inter president Massimo Moratti opted to change manager for the third time in the season and, after employing Gian Piero Gasperini and Claudio Ranieri, decided to sack the latter to appoint Stramaccioni. The young Roman was just 36 years old.
From the beginning of the Stramaccioni era, a new approach was adopted by the young coach in order to rouse a group of players who were in the midst of a poor season. It was a squad that only two years previously had won a famous ‘Triplete’ of the Serie A title, Coppa Italia and the Champions League, under Jose Mourinho.
Stramaccioni did not implement a tactical revolution and flitted between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-1-2 system. Inter’s results improved under the new coach and, despite some surprising defeats, the side won the Milan derby against AC Milan and grabbed a spot in this season’s Europa League.
This year Inter have a much more clear Stramaccioni imprint and with the acquisitions of Rodrigo Palacio in attack, the return of midfielder Philippe Coutinho from a loan at Espanyol, combined with another midfielder, Colombian Fredy Guarin, joining on a permanent deal, the young Roman has the tools to play his favoured formation. In the final days of the summer transfer window, the Milanese clubs decided to swap two ex-Sampdoria mavericks, with Giampaolo Pazzini joining AC Milan, while Antonio Cassano headed the other way, to sign for Stramaccioni at Inter. Now the 36-year-old has a whole host of options up front, with Cassano, Palacio, Diego Milito, and Coutinho and Wesley Sneijder just behind. In the meantime, Stramaccioni asked president Moratti to move on some of the heroes of the ‘Triplete’; a trio of Brazilians left, with goalkeeper Julio Cesar and defenders Lucio and Maicon departing.
The new Inter under Stramaccioni did well at Pescara on the first day of the Serie A season, winning 3-0, but the following Sunday, old friend Zeman taught the young coach a hard lesson at the San Siro.
Roma played superbly from the off, under the guidance of a rejuvenated Francesco Totti, who provided a beautiful assist for striker Pablo Osvaldo to score. Zeman, quite unusually, played with a firm eye on defence, but his side were still devastatingly effective up front with their typical and aggressive 4-3-3 formation, which destroyed the Nerazzurri backline. Roma won 3-1, with goals from promising midfielder Alessandro Florenzi, Osvaldo and another from Brazilian Marquinho. Inter replied through Cassano, with what was a lucky shot, but Roma had produced the best football and Zeman had handed Stramaccioni a tactical lesson.
Since that clash, Inter have been up and down, with wins away at Torino and Chievo, a draw against Rubin Kazan in the Europa League and an incredible defeat at home to Siena, who surprised president Moratti and the Nerazzurri faithful. How Stramaccioni’s Inter reign will turn out is still up in the air, but for it to last any length at all, the coach must recover quickly from his side’s “yo-yo start”, because the fans’ patience could end quite soon.