Inter united on the pitch, divided off it

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It may be different in other countries, but in Italy players only get up close and personal on the pitch and very rarely is there any ‘team bonding’ off it.

They may socialise now and then, but in general they are content to go their own way and get on with life in the traditional Italian, family-orientated manner.

That’s not to say there aren’t dressing room cliques, and nowhere are they more prominent than at Inter, where the South American clans hold sway.

Well, the non-Brazilian cartel that is – the Argentines Javier Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso and Walter Samuel along with Ivan Cordoba of Columbia have the final say on most matters, while the Brazilians keep themselves to themselves, probably secretly wishing they could hang-out with their fun-loving compatriots at AC Milan. 

Having obviously been used to the off-field activities of players in the Premier League, Rafa Benitez must have been surprised at the divisions within his new dressing room.

When the Spaniard apparently suggested the whole squad go out for a meal together he was met with blank looks until a senior South American – we can only guess who – informed the new would-be ‘social secretary’ how things worked.

The coach may be the boss on the pitch, but off it he had no say on how the players spent their time, as long as they weren’t indulging in the sort of activities that blighted Adriano’s final period at the club – and there is no evidence that this crop like to do anything more exciting than watch a bit of TV.

This set-up didn’t concern Jose Mourinho, and as long as results were going his way it didn’t matter if the players ignored each other or not.

Now having to start all over again with a new coach in charge there have been signs some of the outsiders are beginning to raise their voices.

Christian Chivu could never be accused of speaking out of turn, but the sight of the full-back exclaiming to the bench that certain members of the team where not putting in enough effort raised concerns – or hopes, depending on your point of view – that all was not well in the camp.

The Romanian’s blast, ìif they don’t start running, I am offî came midway through last weekend’s defeat at AS Roma and, with the silence broken, fellow full-back Douglas Maicon also opined that the front players were too egoistic.

Maybe that is why Inter are already a lot more entertaining to watch this season – with Samuel Eto’o freed from having to track back – but last season’s successes weren’t achieved by playing open and attacking football.

Tellingly, Zanetti was missing from the trip to Rome – recovering from a ball struck to the nether regions during the Palermo game the previous week - and in his painful absence it was left to his consigliere Cambiasso to lay down the law that any problems are solved inside the dressing room and they would remain there.

There was never any chance of recriminations last night in the Champions League game against Werder Bremen.

Eto’o was given the freedom of the pitch as the out-and-out striker flanked by the eager-to-please Coutinho and Jonathan Biabiany.

And how the Cameroonian thrived through the middle where his pace and direct running garnered a hat-trick as well as setting up one for Wesley Sneijder in a 4-0 stroll.

Eto’o was a player in his element again and the joy of being back in his natural habitat was there for all to see when he grabbed a photographer’s camera after scoring his third to snap the snappers.

Even Benitez was more animated than usual, and spent most of the match pacing his technical area and encouraging the mop-topped Coutinho, who is a clone of Alexandre Pato, to actually enjoy himself.

Yes, enjoy – not a word that is often associated with Inter but maybe that will become the Benitez trademark as long as he doesn’t try and organise any more nights out for the players.

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