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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Leonardo's Revival at Inter: A Simple Job which Benitez Couldn't

When Rafael Benitez was hired at Inter Milan, Mourinho called Benitez lucky for inheriting a squad which won just everything that was there to win, a 'complete product' as Mourinho likes to call it. After winning the Champions League, almost everyone in the Inter dressing room hailed the psychological impact Mourinho had on this team. They just broke the European jinx after decades without the big trophy.

Working under the shadows of Mourinho's achievements, Benitez completely changed the team tactics and there was growing dissent in the dressing room, most notably from the man who scored the brace against Van Gaal's men on that night in Madrid. Players were not motivated anymore and Inter looked they would even miss out the Champions League qualification for next season. Benitez discarded Mourinho's emphasis on ball work in the training sessions and rather utilised, or wasted, this time on gym work. Many pointed out this being the main reason for the constant injuries Inter suffered. So once Benitez was sacked after his famous 'Back Me or Sack Me' plea, Moratti's plan was to hire someone who would not change much the way team trained and played from that of Mourinho era.

Shocking appointment of Leonardo raised so many eyebrows at the other half of Milan than the Inter camp itself. Many questioned the rookie tactician's appointment over an experienced one. But Leonardo has always thrived in getting the best out of the squad. Last year he ensured AC Milan finished third with a very thin old squad and he was the person behind the short revival of Ronaldinho's game, who went on to record the highest number of assists in that term. There was little doubt that Leonardo was more of a motivational coach than a strategical one. As some say, coaches who work in the training session with the hands on player's shoulders. Mourinho acknowledged Leonardo immediately phoned him after his appointment and he had good words on the present coach. Leo has four wins in as many games under his charge now, and with their city rivals and league leaders dropping some points, Inter have their sights on scudetto again. They, now, look more like the team who won the treble under Mourinho.

All said and done, but the real test of Leonardo's managerial qualities would be the Champions League date with Bayern Munich in February where the tactician's true grip on his team is tested in a very different tactical environment. Leo's European adventure with AC Milan was dismal and if he can overcome FC Bayern over the two legs, then Inter would call themselves smart in hiring someone who walked off after bitter relationship with their fierce rivals.

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