Sunday, 23 May 2010

Inter reach perfect peak

Inter's UEFA Champions League triumph came as many of the squad reached the peak of their careers, with coach Jose Mourinho plotting an exit knowing the team may be just past their best next term.

Argentine striker Diego Milito, who scored both goals in Saturday's 2-0 win over Bayern Munich in the Madrid final to clinch an unprecedented Italian treble for Inter, is only now appearing on world football's roll of honour despite being 30.

Repeating his remarkable first season at the club where he scored 22 Serie A goals and netted the winners in the Coppa Italia final, Serie A league decider and the Champions League final will be nearly impossible.

Man-of-the-match Milito acknowledged that this was as good as it got and was surprisingly coy about whether he will stay at Inter.

"I'm very happy at Inter but I have to consider my future," he told a news conference before remarking on the club's success.

"We have done something historic that has never happened in Italian football. But still we don't properly understand what we have achieved."

Mourinho was his usual cryptic self after becoming only the third coach to win a Champions League with two different clubs.

The Portuguese hinted very strongly that he is on the verge of joining Real Madrid, without stating categorically that he is definitely leaving Italy but was again moaning at how tough life is for a coach there given the critical and cynical atmosphere.

Inter fans believe this is the end, especially as he was not spotted at the dawn party celebrations at the San Siro, and his departure after two seasons will make them worry that a glorious era for the previously success-starved club is also coming to a close.

Evergreen captain Javier Zanetti, 36, never has a bad game and is a marvellous example of dedication and hard work trumping age. But the Argentine cannot go on for ever, just like fellow midfielders Dejan Stankovic, 31 and Esteban Cambiasso, 29.

Defensive rocks Lucio and Walter Samuel, as well as dependable goalkeeper Julio Cesar, have also been around for a while, with teenage striker Mario Balotelli a rare instance of youth in the squad.

The big fear for Inter fans is that Mourinho will try to take some of their best players with him if he goes to Real and playmaker Wesley Sneijder did not totally rule out the idea of one day returning to the Santiago Bernabeu.

"Inter won't let me," he said. "He was the one who came in for me, but it is too soon to go back (to Madrid)."

Judging when a team peaks is always tricky, and when Mourinho signed six new first team players this season it looked like they might need time to settle.

In fact, the team gelled almost immediately en-route to a fifth straight Serie A title and left former talisman and striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic slightly red-faced for quitting the club last July.

The Swede moved to Barcelona saying he wanted a realistic crack at European glory having achieved everything he could at Inter.

He was a year too premature but with the uncertainty that could follow a Mourinho exit, Inter will not expect the back-back success they managed in the European Cup in 1964 and 1965.

It has been a long wait for a third title and buoyant club President Massimo Moratti will savour this moment for as long as he can, whether Mourinho has slightly ruined the party or not.

The Portuguese may well be fed up with the series of touchline bans he has received in Italy for his trademark outspokenness, but he prepares to leave the country more respected than ever before despite a possibly messy exit.

Liverpool's Rafael Benitez and Turkey coach Guus Hiddink have been linked in the media with replacing Mourinho and the task that awaits is far from easy given Inter peaked at the perfect time.

Inter's win means Italy keeps its fourth Champions League spot for the 2011/12 European season. A Bayern victory would have given the slot to the Bundesliga under UEFA's co-efficient rules.

Source: Reuters

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