"We asked where is the strong man in the boardroom...and nothing. We asked for clarity...and nothing. There are only two possible conclusions, dear president: absence or incompetence." (An Internazionale banner – Curva Nord)
Beleaguered Inter Milan dragged themselves back from another near disastrous defeat at home on Sunday. Diego Milito this time was charged with pulling the game level against Catania. They had been two goals down but the comeback tasted as bitter as a defeat due to the performance once again screaming of inadequacy.
The banner on the Curva was devastatingly honest, more than an adequate question to be set before President Moratti at any board meeting. It cleverly avoided putting the blame on Moratti's head, yet at the same time in one fell swoop got straight to the root of the problem. It did not shout 'Ranieri out' nor did it demand 'sack the board'; it presented the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Since the Nerazzurri won the treble under Jose Mourinho in May 2010 they have gone through four coaches: Rafael Benitez (Champions League winner), Leonardo (promising young coach), Gian Piero Gasperini (Maverick tactician and wild card) and currently Claudio Ranieri (safe hands). They have had four very different approaches and none of these have worked - however, the one constant is the playing staff.
Mourinho gave Moratti everything he had ever dreamed of, and it is understandable that the oil tycoon feels forever indebted to both the Portuguese coach and all of the players for what they achieved on that memorable night in Madrid. The harsh reality was, however, that the moment the final whistle blew that night the cracks started to appear.
Firstly, Mourinho left for Real Madrid. There is no doubt, love or loathe him, that Mourinho forms a special bond with his players that any coach following him finds hard to infiltrate.
Secondly, Mourinho buys players to win in the here and now. He is no Arsene Wenger, playing the long game, nor does he share the Ajax philosophy. Once his teams have achieved their aim they have generally peaked or a percentage of the players are past their best. Moratti, it seems, did not see that the time had come to build a new era, to monitor a transition, to move the older players into coaching roles so that they could install the never-say-die attitude into the Primavera. Instead, he and Marco Branca decided that this was the beginning of an era, where his aged champions could all follow the example of Javier Zanetti and steam-roll Europe for the foreseeable future.
The Nerazzurri are now reaping the dubious rewards of Moratti and Branca's folly. Esteban Cambiasso, Christian Chivu, Ivan Cordoba, Lucio, Diego Forlan, Maicon, Julio Cesar, Diego Milito, Paolo Orlandoni, Dejan Stankovic, Walter Samuel and of course Zanetti are all 30 or over. What's more, the worse things get the more it seems that Moratti insists that his champions come to the fore, a situation most noticeable in the persistent demands to include an out of form Wesley Sneijder at all costs even when the team were on a winning run.
The Ultras in this instance speak with unusual clarity. The problem is deeper than buying one or two players or getting rid of the coach; it is the ethos of the club that is fundamentally flawed. The transition may still take some years, but if the situation continues the Curva's banners may not be so diplomatic.
It is not uncommon for the Ultras in the Curva Nord to express themselves in more extreme measures, so it is advisable that Moratti take note of this gentlemanly warning. In 2001 the most infamous incident occurred, when in a game against Atalanta the extent of the local rivalry was brought to a dramatic head. The Inter Ultras stole a scooter from one on the travelling Atalanta fans, then, in a surreal turn of events they ‘smuggled’ the bike to the second tier of the stadium. This is where they decided that the best course of action was to show the travelling support what would happen to them if they travelled to the Giuseppe Meazza again, so tried to set it on fire.
Unfortunately for them (and at the time for the owner of the scooter), they failed. But they had not finished yet and the gang of Ultras threw the bike off the second tier so that it smashed on the empty stand below. This was a one-off and certainly not directed at the poor performance of the team or at their own President, but it suggests they will take action when they perceive that it is needed.
Often it is the banners that tell the story. Earlier this year they sent a message to Moratti with a banner that read: "Shameful, Game over." It may be thought that this would not have any effect on the watching hierarchy, but in this case it certainly did. Moratti's sister Bedy was so enraged that she had her say on Twitter: "Shameful is a word that has nothing to do with Inter," she tweeted. "Shameful is for the dishonest, the thieves, the tricksters. Not for us. Forza Inter."
Ultra culture certainly still has an influential part to play in Italy and particularly at Inter. Just as with the great Roman Emperors, the support of the masses is craved like a drug. How Moratti will react to criticism that his entire ethos was wrong is unknown. Will he sack Branca? Or will the coaches continue to pay the ultimate price?
Moratti did not listen to little Filippo some weeks ago, that's for sure. His banner in front of the Tribuna Arancio read "Could you win? Otherwise they will make fun of me at school .Thanks, Filippo." Sorry, Filippo, it seems all that Massimo Moratti is taking note of is how polite his Ultras really are.