The 2011/12 season saw a very sharp decline for Inter from the heights of the treble-winning season, as they finished in a disappointing 6th place in the league, their lowest placing since they finished 8th in 1998/99, and were knocked out in the Champions League Round of 16 by Marseille. Additionally, key members of the historic treble season such as Maicon, Thiago Motta, Wesley Sneijder and Samuel Eto’o had all packed their bags and left Milan.
This left Inter with a huge rebuild, which was not aided by President Massimo Moratti tightening the purse strings. Following Júlio César’s unexpected departure to English side QPR, i Nerazzurri turned to Udinese and poached Slovenian shot stopper Samir Handanovič. A fee of £13.5 million was lauded as an excellent piece of business, following some thoroughly underwhelming signings.
At the time, Handanovič was considered as one of the best goalkeepers in the country and had just led Udinese to an extremely impressive 3rd place finish. Expectations were high from Inter fans, many of whom were hoping the Slovenian could emulate the successes of past legendary keepers, such as Walter Zenga and Júlio César
Eight years later, now 36 years old, Handanovič has been an excellent servant to the club. However, following some high-profile mistakes and sub-par performances of late, one must consider whether the Slovenian is starting to become a liability and if it is time to move on.
It cannot be denied that Handanovič has developed and improved his game whilst being at Inter; the main proof of this is his ability with the ball at his feet. The changing of the goal kick rule has placed a greater emphasis on playing out from the back. Thus, the role of a goalkeeper has changed massively in the last five years, forcing them to adapt their game and improve skills that perhaps had not been a huge priority in the past.
Handanovič has taken huge strides to enhance this aspect of his game and this is underlined by the way that manager Antonio Conte wants his side to play. A large amount of trust is placed upon the goalkeeper in Conte’s scheme, as he provides the building blocks for most of the attacks to develop. The opposition is drawn in to close down the goalkeeper and defenders, which allows Inter to play their way out of the press, ultimately letting their midfielders drive into space left behind the opposition press. This transition is a key feature to the way that Conte wants his side to play in order to bully opponents and dominate games.
After picking up the captaincy in February 2019 following the Mauro Icardi debacle, Handanovič has been the leader and main influence in the dressing room. However, many do not deem him to be a natural born leader, as when things begin to get tough on the pitch the Slovenian seemingly does not seem to have the leadership skills or charisma to rally his teammates. This has become more evident whilst games have been played without any fans, as amongst some of the most vocal Inter players are Romelu Lukaku and Nicolò Barella, who show true desire and grit in order to grind out results.
Handanovič’s degree of timidness and lack of a commanding voice are perhaps a greater sign of the decline in his game. If you take a look at some of best goalkeepers around the world right now, the likes of Manuel Neuer, Allison and Ederson offer a commanding presence and utilise the whole 18-yard box whilst claiming crosses and sensing out any danger.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Handanovič who often appears uncomfortable with leaving his 6-yard box. This often forces the Inter defence to drop deeper in order to cover that space that Handanovič seemingly appears unwilling to cover. The main example that springs to mind was the horrific mistake made against Torino in July, where Handanovič, unchallenged, claims a cross and drops the ball at the feet of striker Andrea Belotti to tap into an empty net. Fortunately, Inter were able to recover and win that game but uncertainty in Handanovič’s game remains.
For many years, Handanovič has been considered as a great shot stopper, and he was crowned as Serie A’s best goalkeeper in the 2018/19 season. However, a particularly worrying trait of Handanovič’s game is the way he just gives up on shots seemingly making no attempt to save the ball at all. This infuriates fans as it shows a lack of effort, but it could be a sign of a greater problem. It demonstrates Handanovič’s lack of sharpness, proving that his reaction time has dropped massively, ultimately meaning he is unable to react quick enough to save shots.
As has been a typical pattern so far this season, Inter usually dominate games but are somewhat caught out by rare opposition attacks, if the Slovenian is unable to deal with the relatively few chances he faces it seems improbable that Inter can compete for silverware both domestically and in Europe.
The most immediate solution would be Ionuţ Radu stepping up between the sticks. The Romanian, who has recently returned following loan spells at Genoa and Parma, grew up in the Inter Primavera and has already amassed 50 Serie A appearances. During this time Radu has proved himself as an impressive shot stopper, and as someone who commands his area.
When Handanovič suffered a finger injury In February, forcing him to sit out six games, the mantle fell to Danielle Padelli to step in and prove that he could compete with the Slovenian for the number one jersey. Despite doing a solid stand-in job, it became apparent that Padelli was not up to the task of playing regularly as Inter lost crucial games against fellow title challenges Lazio, and a semi-final 1st leg cup defeat to Napoli.
One name that has frequently attracted the interest of i Nerazzurri is that of Argentine Juan Musso, once again following the Udinese route. The Argentine has greatly impressed in his first two seasons in Friuli and his market value is around €20 million, a fee that could prove excellent value considering the financial pressures of post-pandemic football.
After 352 appearances for Inter and 81 caps for his national team, Handanovič has enjoyed a highly successful career. However signs are beginning to show a decline in his abilities which will leave Inter’s management team with questions to ponder going forwards.