Inter Milan have endured a season of upheaval so far with defensive mainstays such as Lucio, Maicon and goalkeeper Julio Cesar all exiting the San Siro. Although another prestigious member of the squad, Wesley Sneijder, looks certain to follow suit, he has angered Inter president Massimo Moratti by refusing to make a concrete decision on his future.
Sneijder’s form has dipped dramatically in the last couple of years, mainly due to injuries and a succession of managers unsure of his best position, but even so replacing the Dutchman will be another conundrum for manager Andrea Stramaccioni.
Fredy Guarin could be the solution to Stramaccioni’s selection headache. Revitalised after switching from right-midfield to a trequartista role behind the front two, Guarin has emerged from his shell and looks a completely different player to the cumbersome player Inter bought from Porto in 2012.
Guarin’s 20-yard bullet against Bologna in the Coppa Italia quarter-final was his seventh goal of the season. His best tally for an entire season is only ten. He has now scored four goals in his last six matches. Stramaccioni deserves great credit for identifying the Colombian’s attacking prowess and taking a significant gamble by placing such emphasis on the 26-year-old. Granted, Guarin has always had great potential as a tricky, athletic winger, but adding mental strength and consistency is an altogether different challenge.
Moratti seems impressed too given his reaction to Guarin’s goal against Serie A strugglers Pescara. As Rodrigo Palacio dribbled carefully into the six yard box, he picked out Guarin who took three steps back, allowing himself space and time, and tapped home the easiest of finishes from close-range.
The grinning attacker celebrated by raising his arms at Moratti in the crowd, perhaps acknowledging his growing status and reputation within the Inter set-up. Cameras swept towards Moratti and showed him smiling back at his charge in an almost paternal manner. After all, Inter have waited long enough for Guarin to spark into life.
While Guarin was a constant threat against Pescara with his purposeful runs and casually taken goal, he provided even more end product against Bologna. Playing behind Antonio Cassano and recent signing from Lazio, Tommaso Rocchi, Guarin showed nimble, delicate footwork and an audacious range of passing.
The prominent talking point was his goal. Cassano eased the ball into Guarin who fooled Michele Pazienza by feinting to shoot. Planting his left foot with intent, Guarin then slammed an unstoppable drive into the right-hand corner of Gianluca Curci’s net. Inter looked home and dry after Palacio doubled the home side’s lead.
However, Bologna, after such an insipid performance, approached the closing stages with renewed endeavour and dragged themselves level in the last 10 minutes with goals from Alessandro Diamanti and Manolo Gabbiadini. As the match became stretched during extra time, Guarin provided a touch of class and freed Inter from what was becoming an embarrassing episode.
The Colombian showed his dead-ball expertise and struck a corner high and deep towards the far post. The most unlikely of sources, centre-back Andrea Rannochia, leaped up high and using considerable neck strength, headed an arcing ball over Curci to clinch the match 3-2 at the death.
Despite Sneijder’s absence as he prepares for a potential transfer, Inter have blossomed in a 4-3-1-2 formation, implemented with Guarin pulling the strings and providing ammunition for the strikers. Victory over Bologna represents three wins in five with a frankly makeshift squad and Stramaccioni, a visionary yet inexperienced coach, is handling his first managerial role with class and poise.
Indeed, his greatest accomplishment thus far is perhaps his transformation of Guarin. An upright runner brimming with creativity, Guarin resembles Thierry Henry at his most raw when he first arrived at Arsenal from Juventus. Arsene Wenger transformed Henry from a forlorn winger into one of the most devastating attacking players in the world. Similarly, Guarin arrived in Italy with bags of promise but lacked a sense of tenacity that can only be acquired through constant competition at the highest level.
Nevertheless, Guarin has flourished in his new role with a different outlet to show his skills, direct running and goalscoring ability. Perhaps Guarin was marginalised on the wing and needed a change of position like Henry to fulfil his potential. Although Guarin has far greater challenges ahead if he is to be half as good as Henry, his recent form conjures up memories of Henry’s unhindered runs during his early years at Arsenal.
Unlike his stint on the wing, Guarin now has a deeper understanding of his teammates’ runs and the passes they can feed on. He knows exactly where his teammates will be before he shapes to pass. Considering Guarin’s recent jump in form, maybe rumours of Sneijder’s exit have come at the best possible time.
Sneijder, now 28, may have seen his best days after his alarming slump in performance levels and fitness over the past two years. Stramaccioni should know all about the transfer market after selling a range of shop-worn players approaching their mid-thirties last summer. It’s not always easy to dispose of players once they hit a certain age, but Sneijder still has a degree of artistry that would be a great weapon for any Premier League side. Sneijder’s proposed move is best for both parties and although Inter will be losing an undeniably talented individual, Guarin certainly fits the bill as a ready and willing replacement.