Italian game pays for Inter's permanent revolution

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The Independent Football

If Marcello Lippi is a Bob Dylan fan, then no doubt last Tuesday night he played "It Ain't Me Babe" on his lonely drive from Milan down to his yellow-walled villa at Viareggio. The searing lament for the end of a fundamentally flawed relationship rails: "No, no, no, it ain't me babe, it ain't me you're looking for," summing up the rage contained in Lippi's divorce from Internazionale and their domineering president, Massimo Moratti.

If Marcello Lippi is a Bob Dylan fan, then no doubt last Tuesday night he played "It Ain't Me Babe" on his lonely drive from Milan down to his yellow-walled villa at Viareggio. The searing lament for the end of a fundamentally flawed relationship rails: "No, no, no, it ain't me babe, it ain't me you're looking for," summing up the rage contained in Lippi's divorce from Internazionale and their domineering president, Massimo Moratti.

Unfortunately, Lippi had used less poetic verse at Reggina the previous Sunday when he astonished a post-match press conference. "If I were the [club] president I would either kick out the manager or... take the players who were behaving like spoilt kids... and kick them up the arse." The open challenge to his authority convinced Moratti to wield the axe on the former Juventus manager.

Late on Tuesday afternoon, Moratti appeared genuinely downcast when he addressed the media. Likening the relationship to "a marriage that had gone wrong", he had the air of a rejected lover. Dark hair flopping over silver-rimmed spectacles, in a subdued voice he admitted it was all over. Marcello Lippi had been dismissed.

Unlike most divorces, everyone else in Milan knew it was coming long before the unhappy couple. Even before the defeat by Helsingborgs in August had prevented Inter's qualification for the Champions' League, Moratti's infamous impatience had seen him secretly sounding out the national coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, as a replacement.

Back in 1999, when Moratti had captured Lippi with a £5m three-year contract, he really believed his unending search for a winning coach had ended. But now Lippi has become the seventh manager Moratti has jettisoned since taking over five-and-a-half years ago, desperately seeking to repeat the glory of the Sixties under his president father, Angelo, who himself chopped 11 coaches in six years before settling for the legendary Helenio Herrera.

Lippi offered to continue if Moratti promised to back him against the players. Moratti evidently refused, and the affair is threatening to shake Inter to their foundations, as well as forcingcalcio italiano to face some difficult truths.

The former Milan and national-team coach Arrigo Sacchi has led the charge: "What applies at Inter also happens at other clubs in Italy," he complained. "To be competitive, our clubs often spend 10 times what they spend in the rest of Europe. I'm sorry for Moratti, but what would happen if a normal company were managed in the way Inter are managed?"

Respected columnist Giorgio Tosatti weighed in: "The club have no plan, as shown by the avalanche of buying and selling, and the disastrous habit of each year changing half the squad." Moratti's reign has witnessed a frightening flow of players, including 27 signings in the past two seasons alone. Massive annual close-season clear-outs have amounted to a slash-and-burn policy to finance a spiral of spending frenzies that totals an astonishing 750bn lire - around £250m. "Inter's permanent revolution," said Tosatti, "compares badly with the investments made by Milan, Juve, Lazio and Roma. You need time to build a good squad."

Serie A managers have lined up with Lippi, raising other long-simmering concerns. Inter's 40-strong squad include 19 foreigners speaking 10 languages. Trapattoni is calling for a cap on foreign players, limiting clubs to only four or five, and has received backing from Alberto Zacch-eroni at Milan, whose all-Italian midfield of Albertini, Coco, Ambrosini and Gattuso last night provided the starting line-up for Italy against Romania.

As the media juggled with successors to Lippi - Uru-guay's national coach, Daniel Passarella, or Italy's national Under-21 coach, Marco Tardelli, are the favourites for the job,to be announced tomorrow - news comes that Moratti is close to signing Chilean striker Marcelo Salas from Lazio in exchange for the 25-year-old defender Dario Simic. And the small question of £15m.

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