Tue, Dec 27, 2011 - Page 18 News List

2011 IN REVIEW: ‘Nerazzurri’ suffer painful year as Juve are reborn

AFP, ROME

Inter started the year as European and world champions, and the undoubted kings of Italy, but it has been a painful last 12 months for the Nerazzurri.

What has made it even worse is that their traditional rivals AC Milan and Juventus have been launching comebacks of their own.

Inter ended last year by firing the coach who had guided them to the Club World Cup, Rafael Benitez, and hiring AC Milan stalwart Leonardo.

The move resulted in a slight improvement in league results, but Inter were humiliated in the Champions League, losing 5-2 at home to Schalke 04, before crashing out 7-3 on aggregate.

They did enough to finish second in Serie A, but gave up the title they had held for five years to bitter neighbors AC Milan.

Leonardo then quit to become the new sports director at Paris Saint-Germain and Inter president Massimo Moratti opted for Gian Piero Gasperini as his replacement.

However, he also decided to sell star forward Samuel Eto’o to Anzhi Makhachkala in a move that would reportedly earn the Cameroon captain 20 million euros (US$26 million) a year.

Without a recognized replacement, Inter started the new season poorly and Moratti undermined Gasperini by openly telling the press what system his new coach should be playing and which players should be starting.

Results worsened and Gasperini was fired after just five matches and replaced by Claudio Ranieri.

Progress was slow under the former Chelsea and Juventus coach, but results did at least start to improve toward the end of the year.

It was a very different story in the red and black half of the city, where AC Milan followed up their previous summer transfer coups — when they signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho — by getting rid of Ronaldinho and signing errant Italian talent Antonio Cassano, along with experienced midfield enforcer Mark van Bommel.

Cassano played a bit part, but proved a capable understudy for Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Pato.

Van Bommel’s addition proved crucial, though, particularly in the absence of the often-injured Andrea Pirlo as Milan stormed to the Serie A title with two games to spare.

Coach Massimiliano Allegri had therefore won the scudetto in his first season with Milan and only his third in the Italian top flight.

It was Milan’s first title since 2004, but Europe was a different story as they lost to Tottenham Hotspur in the second round of the Champions League.

Milan had a blip at the start of the new season, but a run of five straight wins set them back on the right path and by the end of the year they were again challenging at the top.

For Juventus it was a tale of two halves to the year.

The first part saw them gradually drop down the table from a top-four spot until they finished seventh and missed out on Europe altogether.

Luigi Del Neri was given his marching orders and replaced by former midfield dynamo Antonio Conte, who had just guided AC Siena to promotion to Serie A.

Without a European distraction, Juve had the best start of everyone in the league and some smart buys, including Mirko Vucinic from AS Roma, Arturo Vidal from Bayer 04 Leverkusen as well as Pirlo on a free transfer from AC Milan, created a more impressive looking squad.

There were mixed fortunes for other teams too, as Napoli finished third and qualified for the Champions League for the first time in 21 years and then knocked Manchester City out of the group stages.

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