A vital week awaits Italian soccer
"You know, those were great days even if, in the end, Dad opted to practically give away the club because he was fed up with certain criticisms. Mind you, today, things are a million times worse... If any of you are interested, I'd offer you a very good deal".
Inter boss Massimo Moratti is the speaker, the "great days" were the '60s when his father Angelo guided Inter Milan to two successive European Champions Cup triumphs and the fact that "things are a million times worse" today is an obvious reference to the criticisms that have dogged the reigning Italian champions for much of this spring.
Moratti was the guest speaker the other night at the Circolo Filologico Milanese (a sort of rotary club) and even if his offer of a "bargain" deal on Inter was very clearly just a joke, it nonetheless reflected the strain and stress of what could well be the most decisive moment in his 15-year-long ownership of the club.
Down to the wire with Roma
For a start, there is the consideration that for the first time since last October, Inter are not leading the way in Serie A. AS Roma's 2-1 home win over Atalanta on a weekend when Inter were held to a 2-2 draw in Florence by Fiorentina not only saw Roma stretch their unbeaten run to 24 consecutive games but it also marked the "sorpasso", the moment when Roma overtook Inter. Roma now lead Inter by just one point.
For a second - and this certainly represented good news for the club - Inter on Tuesday night earned themselves an Italian Cup final clash (most likely with Roma) when in their second encounter in just four days they beat Fiorentina 1-0, to win the tie 2-0 on aggregate. For a third, next Friday Inter are at home to Juventus in a game that is marked not only by an all too obvious traditional rivalry but which also desperately matters to both clubs.
With just five games remaining, Inter need the points if they are to climb back on top whilst Juventus need the points if they are to win their three way battle with Palermo and Sampdoria for a fourth place finish in Serie A that, of course, means qualification for next season's Champions League. Right now, Juventus are sixth on 51 points whilst Palermo and Sampdoria are three points ahead of them, joint fourth on 54 points.
Last but most definitely not least, there is the little matter of that Champions League first leg, semifinal clash with European Champions Barcelona, a game that comes five days after the Inter vs. Juventus clash. All in all, you would have to say that the Inter's "Dance Card" is full.
For the first time in five seasons, Inter are not leading the way at this point of the season. Worse still is the fact that, in Serie A at least, the side is clearly under-performing. Since that dramatic 2-0 derby win over AC Milan last January, Inter have taken just 18 points from a possible 36 in their subsequent 12 games. The Champions League has clearly taken its toll.
However, the Sporting Gods may yet come to their rescue, at least in Serie A. For a start, irony of ironies, in their very first week back on top of the table Roma face city cousins Lazio next Sunday night in a derby clash that is often the most competitive, combative and controversial of all the "hot" Italian derbies. For a second, only a diehard Juventus optimist could deny that the current Juve look porous in midfield, ineffective in defence and toothless in attack.
Who will win the league title?
After this coming weekend, there is very little to choose between the two fixture lists facing the two contenders. (We say "two" contenders because even though AC Milan remain third on 64 points, four behind Roma and three behind Inter, we frankly do not see them getting back into the title contest). Inter face Atalanta, Lazio, Chievo and Siena whilst Roma have Sampdoria, Parma, Cagliari and Chievo - two finely balanced sets of almost equal difficulty.
Yet, the biggest problem heading Inter's way may come from off the field.
When the ongoing "Calciopoli" (the 2006 match-fixing scandal) trial resumed in a Naples court last Tuesday, amongst the interested observers was the Football Federation's investigator Stefano Palazzi. In the dock in Naples, charged with sporting fraud, is the former Juventus director, Luciano Moggi, the man who in 2006 was given a five-year ban by the Football Federation for his part in a scandal that saw Juventus demoted to Serie B and stripped of two league titles.
Last Tuesday's session of the Naples proceedings saw the court concede the admission as evidence of transcriptions of previously unheard phone taps (from five seasons back) which allegedly feature Inter owner Moratti in conversation with (among others) the then referee designator, Paolo Bergamo. It was Moggi's defence team that had requested that this "new" evidence be admitted given that such conversations, of course, between Moggi and Bergamo had formed a major part of the accusations against Moggi in the Federation's "trial" back in the summer of 2006.
Could Calciopoli return to haunt not just Inter but the whole of Italian football?
All in all, it is not hard to see why the idea of selling Inter might have crossed Massimo Moratti's mind in recent days.
About the Author
Paddy Agnew has lived and worked as a journalist in Rome since 1986. Since 1992, he has been Rome correspondent for the Irish Times, and for 15 years he worked as a soccer commentator for Italian state broadcaster RAI. He is a regular contributor to the BBC World Service radio, Irish broadcaster RTE, London-based TalkSport and many other radio stations, and he is the Italian correspondent for the monthly magazine, World Soccer. Agnew is also the author of "Forza Italia, A Journey In Search Of Italy and Its Football" (Ebury Press, 2006).