Inter’s 2009 Summer Mercato: The Construction of a Treble Champion
2010 was a year to remember for Inter Milan: they became the first Italian side to ever win the treble (and just the sixth of all-time), edging out Roma in both the title race and Coppa Italia, before swatting aside Bayern Munich in the Champions League Final. Domestic success had come relatively easily for the Nerazzurri following the fallout of the Calciopoli scandal – but their Champions League triumph was 45 years in the making.
They achieved this under the leadership of José Mourinho; a manager notorious for his winning mentality, but also his brazen demands in the transfer market – the man knows what he wants, and will often sacrifice the long-term benefits of the club for the short-term success of trophies and titles in terms of his signings and personnel choices. Ahead of his Chelsea title win in 2014/15 for example, The Special One exclusively signed players over the age of 25, with the average age of his signings prior to the 2004/05 season averaging out at around the same figure.
Mourinho – working with Director of Football Gabriele Orialli – cast the net slightly wider during the 2008 summer window, signing the likes of Sulley Muntari, Richardo Quaresma and Luis Jiménez. Despite romping to the Scudetto title, however, the signings proved wholly unsuccessful, with only Muntari managing more than 800 minutes of the new recruits during 08/09.
However, in 09/10, Inter added more experienced heads to the squad in a bid to not only retain their Serie A title, but go all the way in Europe following a disappointing round of 16 exit to the hands of Manchester United the season previous.
We’re going to take a look at that £54m figure and see how José went from the bones of a good team, to creating the all-conquering machine we witnessed during 2009/10,
Marko Arnautović – loan – FC Twente
While there are many bit-part players who own big winners medals, few are spoken of as much as Marko Arnautović. During his time at Stoke, the Austrian featured alongside the likes of Bojan, Xherdan Shaqiri and Ibrahim Affelay as the Potters amassed a cluster of Champions League-winning fringe players. He also had ‘CL Winner 2010’ embroidered onto future match-worn boots, despite not playing a minute in that competition.
He didn’t feature much more in the league, either, as the current Bologna man made three appearances and played just 56 minutes in total during his only season in Milan, before heading back to FC Twente when his loan expired.
In the decade since, Arnoutović established himself as a Europa League quality player who maybe could have played consistently in the Champions League, but Mourinho himself cited attitude problems during his spell at San Siro and perhaps that’s what prevented him from establishing himself in Milan.
Lúcio – £6.3m – Bayern Munich
The cheapest of the arrivals to make a real impact on the first team was Lúcio – a powerful centre-half who had spent the previous decade at the top of the game with Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen. He moved following discussions with then-Bayern boss Louis Van Gaal who stated he was no longer part of his plans, with Mourinho sensing an opportunity to galvanise the defender and bear the fruit of his Bayern frustrations.
He was seen as a key step to get Inter playing further up the pitch due to the defender’s mobility, as José sought to make his side an all-action crushing machine. Despite arriving after his 31st birthday, the Brazilian rolled back the years at San Siro and formed a rock-solid partnership with Walter Samuel at the heart of the Nerazzurri backline.
Inter conceded the fewest goals in Serie A in 09/10, kept the most clean sheets and the defender played the full 90 in 12 of their 13 Champions League games, as Mourinho’s men conceded just eight goals in the competition.
After three successful years and 136 appearances, the World Cup winner departed for Juventus on a free transfer in 2012, before ending his 13-year spell in Europe and returning to Brazil six months later. Lúcio was certainly an example of short-termism by Mourinho, but his impact helped carry the side to their 2010 treble and £6.3m certainly isn’t a fee to be sniffed at.
Thiago Motta – £9.1m & swapped for multiple players – Genoa
The move that saw both Thiago Motta and Diego Milito (more on him later) to Inter from Genoa involved a rather messy and convoluted bout of player swaps which saw five Inter players move to the Rossoblù. While four of the players involved either fell by the wayside or played at a level below Inter during their careers, one name that sticks out is Leonardo Bonucci, who moved to Bari instantly in a ‘co-ownership’ deal, before he was picked up by Juventus just a year later.
The short-termism certainly had huge benefits for Inter, even if Bonucci’s sale was a glaring mishap. But in Motta, Inter gained a prickly central midfield player who was good defensively and in possession, but also had an ability to read the game which meant he could complete the midfield work that Mourinho desired, such as covering the attacking Maicon at right-back and getting the ball to Wesley Sneijder at pace.
Motta too had a chip on his shoulder; he had spent six years at Barcelona which was eventually curtailed by injury before a year at Atlético Madrid suffered the same fate. He rebuilt his career at Genoa and was now back on the biggest stage – fulfilling any role needed in the team to stay there.
Despite the midfield options of Esteban Cambiasso, Dejan Stanković, Sulley Muntari and Javier Zanetti (who spent most of the season at left-back), Motta still racked up nearly 1,500 league minutes and was in the top XI of players in that metric.
A controversial red card in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final meant Motta wasn’t able to play in the showpiece match, making him the only major buy from this summer that didn’t feature in the game that made Internazionale immortal – a crying shame considering Mourinho’s willingness to play Cristian Chivu at left-back and move Zanetti centrally.
Following 09/10, injuries began to once more disrupt the Italian’s rhythm as he failed to start a league game from the opening of the 10/11 campaign, until after the winter break. Eventually, Paris Saint-Germain moved in to sign him during the 2012 January window for around the same fee that Inter had paid Genoa two-and-a-half-years earlier – leaving San Siro after 83 appearances in Milan.
For Inter to break even on a player who held a vital supporting (and sometimes even starring) role in such a successful team, is great business – it’s just a shame that they included Bonucci in their negotiations.
Wesley Sneijder – £13.5m – Real Madrid
Typically, José Mourinho and his teams excel when they feel that the world is against them, that they are the underdogs or the side nobody wants to see prevail. At Inter, he helped to do this by signing players that had a point to prove (such as the aforementioned Lúcio and Motta), and Dutchman Wesley Sneidjer was another.
Following Real Madrid’s acquisitions of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaká, Sneijder found himself surplus to requirements and was shown the exit door – winding up at San Siro before putting on a masterful display 24 hours later in a 4-0 win over bitter rivals AC Milan. These sorts of performances became commonplace, as the then-25-year-old stated he would ‘kill and die’ for Mourinho, as he ended the campaign with 23 goal involvements.
He even came 4th in the Ballon d’Or voting in 2010 as he also helped to drag The Netherlands to the World Cup Final, before enjoying another prosperous season in 2010/11 – notching 18 goal involvements this time including two assists in their 3-1 victory over Palermo in the Coppa Italia Final.
A dip in form due to injuries led to a fairly lacklustre 18 months which resulted in the playmaker moving to Galatasaray in the winter of 2013 for £6.75m, leaving Inter after 116 games, 55 goal involvements and six trophies – hardly bad going for someone who cost the club a net transfer fee of just under £7m.
Samuel Eto’o – Swapped for Zlatan Ibrahimović plus £38m – FC Barcelona
In a roundabout sort of way, Inter had plenty to thank Barcelona for in regards to their treble win. The Blaugrana’s dominance led Real Madrid to sign Ronaldo and Kaká, leaving Wesley Sneijder to leave for a fraction of his true value, and their cash plus player exchange for Zlatan Ibrahimović pieced together half of the Nerazzurri’s attacking line.
While ‘Ibra’ was exceptional at Inter – netting 57 league goals in three seasons – Eto’o fit the role of this side far better, with cash left over to sign his direct replacement. Famously, Eto’o spent much of the back half of the 09/10 season as a right-sided winger who had the capacity to move central and support the striker, or also to drop deeper and play in a more defensive shape.
Despite the fact that the Cameroonian was supposedly unhappy at having to play the supporting role at the Camp Nou, Mourinho was able to convince him to buy into the philosophy for the good of the team – spending most of the Champions League semi-final second leg at full-back after Motta’s red card. Like those before him, he had a point to prove, which is exactly what he did.
Despite the shift in position, Eto’o still managed 19 goal involvements in the league and missed just 26 minutes of the side’s Champions League campaign. After the Portuguese’s departure, he played more often as a striker and managed 44 goal involvements in Serie A and the Champions League in 2010/11, before departing for the riches of Russia.
His move to Anzhi brought in another £25m for the forward, meaning – while they still lost Zlatan – the club also gained nearly £65m for a player who helped them win an historic treble, played 102 games for the side in two seasons and bagged 53 goals. As Ibrahimović ultimately flopped in Catalonia, Eto’o achieved what the big Swede had always tried to.
Diego Milito – £25.2m – Genoa
What is the ultimate hallmark of any good Mourinho team? Pragmatic, masters in the dark arts and a trophy guzzling, win at all cost machine? All are correct, but in terms of personnel, they have all been spearheaded by a big, bullish centre-forward who scored plenty of goals throughout the season – but would also deliver in the big games. Didier Drogba, Diego Costa and Benni McCarthy or Karim Benzema and Harry Kane to a lesser degree – but perhaps none did it better than Diego Milito.
Signed from Genoa for £25.5m, the 29-year-old outscored all but Inter’s own Zlatan Ibrahimović in 2008/09, earning plaudits for his predatory goal-scoring ability, but also the bundles of technical quality he possessed – something he showed on the biggest stage.
He scored what would later end up being the defining goal in the Champions League semi-final with a poachers header at the back post (after assisting the first two Inter goals), before he went on to net a stunning brace in the final against Bayern. He scored 30 goals in total during 09/10, eventually ending his Inter career in 2014 with 75 goals and 29 assists – placing him just outside of Inter’s top 10 goalscorers of all time.
Milito did cost a lot of money for a man entering the back end of his prime, though. If he had been signed just three weeks later, he would have been known as the world’s most expensive footballer over 30, and he would still reside in the top ten now. But, Milito did deliver in three of his five campaigns, even with injuries plaguing him during 2012-2014. He scored the goals that led his side to an unprecedented treble – so I’d say he has to be worth it.
It would be wrong not to at least mention Goran Pandev, a free January arrival who played 19 times until season’s end and fit into Mourinho’s tactical system like a glove. He often cropped up on the left, abandoning his usual striker duties to play the role of a willing runner – earning all but 22 of his Champions League minutes from that position, including 80 in the Final itself.
Pandev actually arrived under a cloud of controversy following the termination of his Lazio contract due to disagreements with the club’s hierarchy, meaning that – like Motta, Sneidjer, Lucio and Eto’o, he arrived slighted, determined and at a fraction of his true value.
He would eventually leave for Napoli in 2012 following a season on loan at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium, setting the Neapolitans back £7m in what was another inspired piece of transfer business by Mourinho and his team.
⏪ Drama in Munich #OTD in 2011…
⚫️🔵 Inter strike late to claim an away goals aggregate victory to reach quarter-finals 😮
⏰⚽️8⃣8⃣ Pandev @Inter_en | #UCL pic.twitter.com/Jff5TPaVCF
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) March 15, 2021
Overall, Inter Milan enjoyed a stunning window which achieved the ultimate goal; instant success. José identified players who had points to prove, possessed the necessary quality and were all willing to buy into his tactical beliefs and systems. There were teething problems and growing pains along the way, but when you conquer all before you, they are quite easily forgotten.
There is the debate, however, that Mourinho thought too short-term. Prior to Antonio Conte, no Inter side had lifted the Scudetto and they have only managed to escape the Champions League group stages twice since, nevermind get anywhere near winning the trophy again. Within just a couple of years, the side was picked apart as the likes of Zanetti, Cambiasso, Stanković, Maicon, Samuel and Júlio César aged out, as Milito, Lúcio and Sneijder departed.
Having said all of this, as previously mentioned, the club made the best part of £65m from Samuel Eto’o’s involvement with the club – more than enough money to compensate for the losses of the other four major signings. The side was disassembled and the decade that followed Mourinho’s tenure was far from the prettiest, but they are still the only Italian side to ever complete the treble – an achievement surely worth the relative sacrifices.
By: James Pendleton / @jpends_
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Shaun Botterill – Getty Images