Soccer: Inter in strife after embarrassments

Coach Stramaccioni, sporting director Branca under pressure

Soccer: Inter in strife after embarrassments

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, March 12 - Until a few weeks ago Andrea Stramaccioni's place on the Inter Milan bench had looked safe. The Serie A giants were not having a scintillating season, but Chairman Massimo Moratti looked willing to be patient with his 37-year-old coach. Stramaccioni had no experience of playing top-level soccer, never mind coaching a Serie A club, when he was promoted from his role as head of Inter's academy side after Claudio Ranieri was sacked a year ago. His job was to give a young squad of players a new sense of identity and playing style after Inter gradually offloaded many of the veterans of the 2010 Champions League-Serie A-Italian Cup treble-winning team. And in the first half of the season, the team seemed to be showing progress under the young boss, notching league wins over city rivals Milan, champions Juventus and title-chasers Napoli. But Inter have lost their way in the new year and suffered several embarrassing defeats. Last week's 3-0 drubbing at Tottenham Hotspur in the Europa League last 16 means they already have one foot out of the competition before Thursday's return at the San Siro. Recent results in Serie A include a 3-1 loss at relegation-threatened Siena, a 4-1 drubbing at Fiorentina and last week's 0-1 home defeat to Bologna. Inter's defence is weak, as shown by the 58 goals they have conceded in all competitions this season - compared to 73 in favour - with centre backs Juan Jesus and Andrea Ranocchia frequently looking clumsy and out of position. Their only real creative thrust at the moment comes from 30-year-old Antonio Cassano, who soon runs out of steam. Moratti is not a happy man and Stramaccioni, who in his defence has had lots of injuries to contend with, is not the only one in the firing line. The failure of some new arrivals to shine, such as 18-year-old Crotian midfielder Mateo Kovacic, Inter's big signing of the January transfer window, has also put pressure on sporting director Marco Branca. Indeed, Moratti has suggested that both could exit if the results do not improve, in a knock-back to Branca, who had said he was confident both he and Stramaccioni would still be at Inter next season. "I heard that (what Branca said), then he said it would be up to the chairman to decide. I agree with him on that. "I'd be happy if things were to stay as they are, only with different results". Italian media say Stramaccioni should be given until the end of the season to see if he can turn things around and secure third place to qualify for next season's Champions League. If he fails and Inter miss out on Europe's premier club competition for the second consecutive season, he is virtually certain to be dismissed. But he could be ejected even earlier if there are any more embarrassments, with a tandem team of Luis Figo, who has an ambassador role for the club, and assistant coach Beppe Baresi, seen as a possible caretaker solution. Stramaccioni believes it will not come to that. "I and the team share Moratti's bitterness," the coach said. "But the second-half performances show me that the team is still with me. "Nothing is lost. There are 10 games to go (in the league) and lots can change. It's been a strange championship. "We have to regain confidence and some (injured) men".

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