x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Leonardo's switch to Inter Milan is nothing new

After several experiments with men brought in from outside the culture of Serie A - the latest being Rafa Benitez - Moratti has gone with a tactician who knows Italian football profoundly well.

When Massimo Moratti, the president of Inter Milan, explained his choice for the new head coach of his club just before Christmas, it was possible to imagine many of the words he chose to describe the thinking behind appointing Leonardo were stored on his hard-drive.

Moratti, after all, is used to this procedure. This was the 16th time in his 15 years in charge of the club that Moratti has presided over a change of coach.

It is the third time he has unveiled a man more readily associated with one of Inter's principal rivals. After several experiments with men brought in from outside the culture of Serie A - the latest the short-lived tenure of Rafa Benitez - Moratti has gone with a tactician who knows Italian football profoundly well.

But like Marcello Lippi, who was put in charge of Inter at the end of the 1990s, in between his two far more garlanded spells with Juventus, or like Alberto Zaccheroni, whom Moratti turned to seven years ago, after he had guided AC Milan to a scudetto, Leonardo mainly knows Inter as rivals.

The Brazilian's blood, as they say, flows red and black, because he played for Milan, worked as a director at Milan and coached Milan until last June.

But Leonardo's blood also boiled from time to time in his later days working at Milanello, Milan's headquarters. After he left, having taken the club to third in his one season in charge, he heavily - and rather colourfully - criticised Milan president Silvio Berlusconi.

"He's like Narcissus," Leonardo told the Gazzetta dello Sport. "He doesn't like anything that isn't a reflection of himself." Leonardo expressed regrets at leaving Milan: "I thought I would be a milanista all my life."

Now Leonardo is the complete opposite. In the closed, sometimes suffocating world of Serie A, such a leap is not unprecedented.

In the post-Bosman era of busy transfer markets and transitory contracts, Milan and Inter have seen many important members of staff move either directly from one to the other, or jump elsewhere before joining the team they were once told to regard as a mortal enemy.

Leonardo is joining Inter less than a 150 days after Zlatan Ibrahimovic, three years a superstar with Inter, signed for Milan, where so far he has been just as prolific a goalscorer in red and black stripes as he was in black and blue.

For many years, while Milan collected their sixth and seventh European Cups, they would enjoy crowing about the fact that Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf had been such inspiring players behind the successes.

Pirlo had been cast aside as an insufficiently talented No 10 by Inter; he joined Milan for free and, converted to a deep midfielder, was the best in the world in his position. Seedorf has won the Champions League at almost all his clubs - at Ajax, at Real Madrid and twice at Milan - but not while with Inter.

Those transformations used to embarrass Moratti, who became notorious for overseeing a high turnover of players and managers during the first half of his presidency.

Later, the pattern of players failing at Inter, then succeeding at Milan altered slightly.

Ronaldo, the Brazilian, never captured the brilliance of some of his injury-free Inter days when he joined Milan; Christian Vieri's knee problems prevented him doing for Milan what he had done as a regular goalscorer for Inter.

Against this background it was natural Moratti should be asked if the recruitment of Leonardo, who has never coached anywhere but at Milan, was given his new job partly to pique Berlusconi's club.

"No," replied the Inter president. "We didn't bring Leonardo in to irritate Milan." Moratti promised: "Leonardo will have time to set out his goals."

That is just as well, with Milan 13 points ahead of their city enemies in the table. Leonardo may first have to watch the Narcissist's club achieve something he patently could not do while there - win a title - before he has a realistic chance of restoring Inter's championship calibre.