'Cursed' Inter rage against the refereeing machine yet again

It was around this time last year that Andrea Stramaccioni was leading Inter to European glory.

It may have been as coach of the youth side in the NextGen Series – the Champions League for tomorrow’s stars – but the success was enough to see the then 36-year-old selected to take over the reins of the first-team in place of the sacked Claudio Ranieri, despite never having been in charge of a senior side.

His 'interim' reign was turned into a permanent deal thanks to a derby success over AC Milan and a sixth-place finish, which was something of a minor success given what had gone before. But 12 months on, Serie A’s youngest coach finds himself in a similar position in the table, with little sign the team has moved forward.

The 2-0 loss at Cagliari - who were also playing “away” in Trieste, having vacated the Is Arenas in Sardinia due to structural safety concerns - was the Nerazzurri's third consecutive defeat and their fourth in the last five, leaving them in real danger of missing out on Europe altogether, never-mind failing to qualify for the Champions League for a second consecutive year.

Bright moments have been few and far between during this campaign: ending Juventus’ unbeaten home record was one to remember, beating Milan another, and there was a heroic attempt to overturn a three-goal deficit against Tottenham in the Europa League, but that has been about it.

Wednesday evening’s Italian Cup semi-final return tie at home to Roma, in which the side trail 2-1 from the first leg, is the last chance to salvage something from a season that Stramaccioni termed as “cursed” after watching Walter Gargano and Yuto Nagatomo join the injury list. The Japanese full-back is enduring his second spell on the sidelines this term, having lasted just three minutes on his return from a spell on the treatment table.

Injuries have already ruled out Diego Milito for the rest of the season, with Antonio Cassano, Walter Samuel and Rodrigo Palacio also on the sidelines for various periods of time. However, it is not the breaks and strains that have left the club feeling black and blue, rather that old chestnut that referees are bias against Inter.

The words 'Massimo Moratti' and 'outraged' haven't been far from the front pages of the sports dailies all season, but the chattering reached a crescendo in the last week or so following the 4-3 home loss to Atalanta in which Inter had at one stage led 3-1.

When Samuel was adjudged to have handled the ball, what looked like a very dubious penalty helped the visitors back into the game, and though Inter basically capitulated from there on, the club patron could not help himself rage against the machine of officialdom.

“I no longer believe referees act in good faith,” he complained to a press corps eager for him to keep shooting his mouth off. But rather than dig a deeper hole for himself, he let celebrity fan Paolo Bonolis use the club’s official channel and website to voice his suspicions that there were forces conspiring against Inter. The television presenter even suggested there was a plot to ensure Milan finished in the top three.

The television presenter claimed match officiating was nothing more than “a comedy”, but the joke was really on him as his comments came a week after Milan had seen two penalties awarded against them at Fiorentina, who are still in the hunt for third after their win over Atalanta and Milan’s draw against Napoli this weekend.

One must wonder what Bonolis and Moratti will add to the conspiracy file after their team's most recent fixture. You suspect the tone will change from comedy to tragedy, after Cagliari were awarded what could be termed a “soft” penalty when Mauricio Pinilla threw himself at Silvestre’s out-stretched leg.

Sadly for those hoping that everyone could move on from the events of the previous week, the latest refereeing decision only added further fuel to the bonfire of Inter’s “cursed” season.

However, It has been a steady decline since Jose Mourinho oversaw the Treble in 2010, with Moratti hiring and firing Rafa Benitez, then being unable to prevent Leonardo from jumping ship to PSG, before dispensing of Gian Piero Gasperini and Ranieri in quick succession.

The inexperienced Stramaccioni has been left with a team of aging stars in their twilight days, such as Javier Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso, Christian Chivu, Dejan Stankovic and Samuel, along with another group who would never have got anywhere near a Mourinho’s squad and a smattering of youngsters with little more than potential on their side.

Twenty-six goals have been conceded since the turn of the year, which tells the true story of a side that at times has been swept away by fast-breaking counter-attacking opponents. The whole team has looked one-paced, as even Cagliari demonstrated when Pinilla came on to join the impressive Victor Ibarbo in attack.

Of course, Stramaccioni was all doom and gloom in the post-game press conference, but despite Moratti’s protestations that everyone has it in for Inter, the writing may be on the wall for the young coach if he cannot overcome Roma on Wednesday.

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