Inter Milan Confirm Leonardo As Successor To Rafa Benitez

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End Of Excuses: Leonardo Replaces Rafa Benitez At Inter Milan

It didn't take long for Massimo Moratti to eliminate all excuses surrounding Inter Milan. Given all the injuries suffered by the Nerazzurri, falling from their Serie A pedestal is explicable. But the troubles the five-time defending champions have had while healthy, the 13 point gap from the top that's created, the former manager's lack of accountability - Inter's problems have transcended fitness. Thus, Leonardo has been named Rafa Benítez's replacement, an obvious is head-shaking move.

Not that Leonardo doesn't fit with Inter. He clearly does, to the extent that it's hard to argue any other available coach would have been a better fit, but after 13 years on the red and black side of the San Siro, not even today's announcement can make the fit seem right. When he's on the sideline January 6, standing next to an eerily similar looking Javier Zanetti, the visage will seem like something from a video game. Ha! This game is crazy! Leonardo is managing Inter!

It's an appointment that became official Friday, with the Brazilian signed to guide Inter through next season. His start date is Sunday the 26th, giving him 10 days to prepare for his first match. Then, second place Napoli and their three match win streak go to the San Siro, and while that superficially sounds like a tough way to break his Nerazzurri bridle, the Azzurri could make for a perfect debut.

Napoli is one of six teams Inter has to pass if they're to retain their title. They're a surprise contender, one not used to going to the San Siro with expectations. Coming off a three match winning streak cooled by the winter break, Napoli could be the right combination credible opponent beatable side. Inter is still the more talented side, so defeating Napoli is well within their means. And if Leonardo can't deliver three in his debut? Benítez hang over.

Such is the situation Leonardo's thrust himself into, but coming off a season where he had to fill the shoes of Carlo Ancelotti, 41-year-old Brazilian's limited experience should serve him well. At Inter, Leonardo's not only following Benítez but he's dealing with expectations crafted by José Mourinho, and while he won't be expected to replicate The Special One's achievements, he will be expected to be much more José than Rafa. But is that more difficult that following in the shoes of Ancelotti last year, when Leonardo was appointed manager at Milan after Carlo left for Chelsea? Consider the Rossoneri had also sold Kaka to Real Madrid that summer, maintain Milan's standing near the top of Serie A seems a more difficult task than getting Inter back on track.

From Internazionale's point of view, it's hard to imagine a better candidate. Many will point to Leonardo's lack of experience, having only one year of experience managing. In that year, he guided Milan to third place, with the Rossoneri surprisingly challenging near the top of Serie A for much of the season. A long tenure as player, scout and coach means he knows the league as well as anybody, and if he can bring the same confident stability to Inter that he brought to Milan, a sixth straight title is not out of the question.

Most importantly for Inter, they've moved on. They used the winter break to quickly address the Benítez problem. Moratti had a man in mind, acted quickly, and now, within days of returning from Abu Dhabi, the club has a new focus. Whether Leonardo retains the scudetto, this is Inter putting their best foot forward, something they wouldn't be doing had they retained Benítez.


Rafa Benitez Firing At Inter Milan: 'Mutually Satisfactory Agreement' Reached

Benítez must have wanted out of Inter Milan as much as the club wanted him to leave. Either that or he got a great settlement offer from the club, because the fight over how much of his remaining contract would be paid was relatively short. One day after the soccer world turned abuzz with news of the former Liverpool manager's departure, Benítez is now (officially) a former Internazionale manager, having come to an accord with the world champions.

The announcement, released earlier today on the club's web site, is three sentences: one announcing, one thanking, and another .... thanking?

MILAN - F.C. Internazionale and Rafael Benitez wish to convey that, together and with mutual satisfaction, they have reached an agreement for the early cancellation of their working partnership.

F.C. Internazionale would like to thank Rafael Benitez for his work in charge of the team, which he guided to success in the Italian League Super Cup and in the FIFA Club World Cup.

Rafael Benitez would like to thank F.C. Internazionale for the important professional experience and for the victories achieved together.

Even by mealy-mouthed business standards, this is an uncommonly affable statement. It's as if Massimo Moratti randomly iChat'd Benítez late last night, stared blankly at him in the moments after the Spaniard's face appeared, and waited. Then, both spontaneously, simultaneously blurted: "I can't do this!"

Within minutes they'd agreed to split the difference. "Maybe we can do lunch, when I come back." Benítez offered. Sure, Moratti thought, though he knew. There was no going back from this. Too much, too soon. They never should have in the first place. It was just never going to work.

And if this all sounds a bit over-dramatic, consider the rumor that Benítez is in Liverpool right now. Although Roy Hodgson was quoted yesterday as not being bothered that his predecessor was back on Merseyside, how would you feel if your girlfriend's ex kept hanging around her apartment?

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