This feature is part of the Academy Way
Inter Milan is an Italian institution. Although they may be faltering somewhat in the current Serie A landscape as Juventus and Napoli soar, they remain a monumental club in European football. The prestige, tradition and glamour associated with this great club are enduring and undeniable. Throughout their decorated history, Inter have showcased some of the finest footballing talent ever to grace the game and while the high-profile transfers attract the headlines, the club has always espoused the nurturing of youth talent.
Inter have always paid special attention to their youth academy. They train their players intensively and relentlessly, honing their fledgling personalities with the ultimate goal of producing champion footballers of genuine world-class quality.
Marco Monti, the club’s current academy director, is greatly valued and respected in Milan. He has been responsible for the production line of Inter’s future stars, working closely with the coaches in the under-12, 14, 16 and 18 categories as they search for the next player to reclaim Inter’s place at the head of Italian football’s affairs. The youth programme and structure at the Serie A club is notorious. When you join the ranks of the Nerazzurri, you are committing your body and your mind to one of the most intense and gruelling training regimes available at youth level.
However, despite the demanding nature of youth footballing life at Inter, the Nerazzurri’s instant appeal to burgeoning talents is still demonstrated clearly to this day. In recent years, Mauro Icardi and Marcelo Brozović have rejected lucrative deals from Premier League teams and other European heavyweights in favour of adorning the blue and black stripes at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. This particular duo have since established themselves as indispensable elements in Frank de Boer’s current crop and it reflects the tradition of youth that courses through Inter’s veins.
Recently, Inter have invested massive sums of money in bringing an impressive array of talent to the San Siro while their academy graduates have suffered. In 2013, after his company International Sports Capital purchased a 70 percent of the club, Erick Thohir outlined his vision of an Inter squad brimming with players who have been thoroughly drilled and educated in the way of the club from an early age. It makes sense and is an admirable mode of thought from Inter’s president, especially considering the stunning track record the academy has in producing an array of talent.
When José Mourinho departed Inter, the club fell into disarray. Throughout his immensely successful career, it can be argued that the Portuguese tactician has never built a connection with a club quite like the one he established at the San Siro. Among his myriad achievements at the club, Mourinho will always be held in the highest regard for revolutionising the youth set-up, placing particular emphasis on improving the training facilities and refining the youth coaching methods to ensure the club flourished at all levels under his leadership.
During Mourinho’s time in charge, the primavera side – Inter’s under-20 outfit – revelled in achievements which mirrored the successes of the senior squad. While Mourinho was at the club, the primavera won both the prestigious Viareggio Tournament and the NextGen series. Mourinho’s impressive work in overseeing the upturn in fortunes was commended universally in Italian football and drew admiration from the most unlikely of corners. Indeed, former foe Claudio Ranieri – who famously had a war of words with Mourinho while he was at Roma – showered the Portuguese coach with praise, proclaiming that there should have been a statue erected at Inter’s Appiano Gentile training centre. Looking at some of the young talent that flourished during his time in charge, it is difficult to argue with Ranieri’s statement.
It was under the watchful guidance of Mourinho that Mario Balotelli really came of age. In the 2008-09 season, Balotelli’s 31 appearances in all competitions established the mercurial striker as one of the most exciting talents in European football. Balotelli’s stock had always been sky-high at Inter, but Roberto Mancini sought to ease the youngster into first-team duties during his last year in charge. However, following his appointment, Mourinho recognised Balotelli simply needed minutes in order to excel. Among his notable achievements that season, Balotelli became Inter’s youngest ever Champions League goalscorer at 18 years and 85 days, seizing the record previously held by fellow academy graduate Obafemi Martins.
The academy has not only produced Balotelli in recent years, but a litany of exciting players who have benefited from the experience of the primavera and more. Mattia Destro, who is currently turning out for Bologna, is a product of Inter’s youth structure. Joining the club when he was only 13, Destro set the youth footballing world alight during his five years as a San Siro youth sensation. His appetite for goalscoring helped propel Inter’s youth to the 2008 Torneo di Viareggio.
Destro excelled in the youth structure at Inter, undergoing a transformation from a scrawny 13-year-old to a genuine number 9 who has the quality and ruthlessness to wreak havoc on defences at will. Destro may have left Inter too soon – back in 2010 for Genoa – but he has forged a successful career for himself at Roma and now at the Rossoblu, Destro is primed to explode back onto the scene once again. Of course, he owes it in no small part to the excellent coaching and guidance he received as a kid at Inter.
If you were to ask Destro what aspect of the training regime was most rigorously practiced, he would most likely tell you technique. At Inter’s youth academy, players are instructed to perfect their first touch, vision and technical proficiency; these are treated as central to the overall progression. One of the most popular drills is focused around passing and receiving, which emphasises close control. Coaches train the players to take one touch only, pass it on with pace and accuracy, before receiving it again; proceeding to dribble precisely around three cones carefully positioned cones.
It is a training exercise which improves sharpness of touch, vision and refines the player’s overall spatial awareness. Additionally, when a player arrives at the Pulcini (under-10) stage, the training regime incorporates running, various technical exercises and a tightly structured conditioning programme to enhance the possibilities of creating the ultimate player. From around the age of 14, tactics and formations are added to a player’s education. The Inter youth coaches believe that it is important to empower the individual ability before teaching the various nuances and implications of various team systems, strategies and formations.
At the Centro Sportivo Giacinto Facchetti, named after Inter’s greatest defender, the club provide education as well as football practice. They have a productive collaborative partnership with the secondary school Istituto Milano Liceo, which serves to educate their youth while the coaches plan the development of their footballing aptitude. The club also provides Italian language and literature lessons to foreign players to smooth their transition into the daunting world of Inter’s highly-regarded academy world.
The youth players have a host of first-class services available to them, including access to an expertly-trained team of specialists. Consisting of athletic trainers, doctors, physiotherapists, sports scientists and nutritionists, the youth players are able to nurture every aspect of their young professional lives. On top of that, the Facchetti complex boasts 30,000 square metres of professional training and education facilities between the Niguarda and Bresso districts in the north of Milan. Needless to say, the facilities are amongst the best in Europe.
A cherished aspect of a youth player’s development has always been the crystallisation of their loyalty. Flicking through the archives of Inter, some of their most devoted servants have been outstanding products of the academy. Two examples stand out: Giacinto Facchetti and Giuseppe Bergomi. Both rising through the ranks from tender ages, Facchetti and Bergomi can boast between them 1385 club appearances, five scudetti, two European Cups, three UEFA Cups and two Coppa Italia trophies.
Facchetti and Bergomi both dedicated their entire professional careers to repaying the coaching and direction they received from the Inter coaches. For the youth players currently grooming their abilities at the club’s academy, Bergomi and Facchetti serve as a symbol of what the Inter way can do for a young player; success, prestige and the status of a club legend.
Disciplining the players comprehensively in both playing and understanding the game has yielded impressive results in recent years. In 2012, Inter’s primavera team were victorious in the inaugural staging of the NextGen Series tournament, which featured 16 of the most promising youth teams from around Europe. Towering above impressive collections of youngsters including Liverpool, Barcelona and Ajax, the mightily impressive Inter side emerged as the most-talked about team of the tournament. Featuring novice stars like Samuele Longo, Daniel Bessa and Andrea Romanó, Inter were outstanding throughout the series before overcoming Ajax on penalties in the final.
For Inter as a club, it was the realisation of a vision that drives the club more than anything: the production of youth talent. The NextGen series was created to celebrate the elite development and celebrate the future of football but sadly the tournament was indefinitely suspended in 2013 and has not been played since. However, it has not deterred Inter from expanding and facilitating greater depths of elite youth development at their club.
The club are continuing to spread their philosophy and commitment to youth development to all corners of the globe. In 2014, the club launched the Inter Academy Florida project, which hopes to embody the spirit of Inter’s productive coaching principles to the future stars of the USA. The academy is thriving and if you visit their Facebook page, you are immediately bombarded with videos of talented youngsters learning their trade with vigorous enthusiasm.
Inter are committed to unearthing talent from all over the globe and they further illustrated their dedication to inculcating their programme all around the world when they launched their next academy project in Hosur, India. It is refreshing to see Inter committing youth coaching and developing programmes in areas of the world where football is not as instantly accessible as it is in some of sport-centric areas of Europe.
Inter have pledged to sweep their vision for elite youth development in football to the far-flung corners of the global footballing community and it is an endeavour which can only be applauded. It may be possible that the next star for Inter is unearthed in one of their international academies, an Indian superstar or American maestro ready to uphold the tradition of the great Italian club.
Inter’s current situation in Serie A may be slightly disconcerting, but their passion for producing youth footballers continues to burn deeply and it will only serve to help the club in years to come.
By Matt Gault. Follow @MattGault11