There were protests when Alberto Zaccheroni arrived at the San Siro for his first match as coach of Internazionale FC last weekend. Five supporters climbed on board the team bus to speak with captain Javier Zanetti, while inside the ground fans waved banners of protest ahead of the goalless draw with AS Roma.
Zaccheroni has arrived at a club whose supporters are not slow to show their frustration at the long wait for a first league title since 1989. Inter may have won the UEFA Cup twice in the 90s but their failure to add to their 13 league championships weighs heavily.
Former Milan coach
However, none of last week's protests had anything to do with the appointment of Zaccheroni, a former coach of Inter's city rivals, AC Milan. Instead the supporters' complaints were directed elsewhere, namely at club president Massimo Moratti and the Nerazzurri players. As the headline read in Inter fanzine L'urlo Della Nord: "Moratti and players to blame."
'The line of fire'
Wherever the responsibility lies, it is invariably the coach - in this case, the sacked Héctor Cúper - who carries the can. Felix Magath, coach at VfB Stuttgart, spoke up in defence of the coaching fraternity recently when he said: "Some clubs have come to the conclusion that the coach is the weakest link - but that is only so that the board and other leading officials can get out of the line of fire."
Coach considered expendable
In Italy the relationship between a coach and his club is not as pivotal as, say, in England, however. Whereas a man like Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United FC has come to represent everything about his club, in Italy the coach is considered more expendable.
His duties are training and selecting the team and deciding tactics. The rest - including signing players - is the business of the club. Hence it is not unusual for a coach to work at rival clubs. Both Giovanni Trapattoni and Marcello Lippi were at Juventus FC, then at Inter - their greatest rivals, historically - before returning to Juve again. Sven-Göran Eriksson coached both the Rome clubs.
Of course, this is not unique to Italy. In Spain, Radomir Antic has been in charge of Real Madrid CF, Club Atlético de Madrid, and FC Barcelona in his time. Yet controversies do arise. Luis Aragonés has held the reins at both Barcelona and Atlético but vowed that he would never work at the Santiago Bernabéu. Fans' protests stopped José Mourinho going to Sporting Clube de Portugal following his dismissal by SL Benfica. Tottenham Hotspur FC fans never truly accepted George Graham following his successful earlier spell at Arsenal FC.
Ignored by Berlusconi
In Zaccheroni's case, there were no eyebrows raised when he arrived at Inter. He may have won the Serie A title with Milan in 1999 but was not considered a Milan man and never saw eye to eye with Rossoneri president Silvio Berlusconi. Indeed Zaccheroni, who had a short spell at S.S. Lazio in between, comes from 'Interista' stock; his father owned a small hotel that he named Ambrosiana, in a reference to the club's former name, Ambrosiana-Inter.
So far so good
And it is so far so good after he followed up the goalless draw with AS Roma with a 2-0 victory at AC Chievo Verona last night, secured by goals from Christian Vieri and Alvaro Recoba. Not a bad way to warm up for his UEFA Champions League bow against FC Lokomotiv Moskva on Wednesday.
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