Serie A

Inter-Bologna: The Making of Thiago Motta's Side

5 min read
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Chris McMenamy
Chris McMenamy

Last season’s Bologna-Inter games proved to be seminal moments in Thiago Motta’s first year as Bologna coach. Losing 6-1 at San Siro after three straight wins before the World Cup was a reminder that Bologna shouldn’t get carried away and showed the ‘naivety’ of their incessantly aggressive approach.

Three months later, a 1-0 win over Inter highlighted the “symbiosis”, as Motta put it, of his side. An effective press caused Danilo D’Ambrosio to lose the ball just inside his own half and one pass put a perfectly positioned Riccardo Orsolini through on goal to score the winner.

Rijkaard, Gasperini, Mourinho, Ancelotti, Emery and Conte. Those are the names that jump out on a list of managers Thiago Motta played for, so it’s not surprising he instantly transitioned into coaching upon retirement in 2018, nor that he now appears to be the coming man in Italian coaching.

In four years, he’s come a long way from being the guy the media mocked for suggesting his team could play a 2-7-2 formation. He was (kind of) joking, theorising that a 2-7-2 is merely a 4-3-3 read horizontally; an attempt to highlight that not everything is binary when it comes to tactics.

Like most ‘new’ ideas in football, perhaps Motta’s biggest crime was to think outside the box without the sufficient reputation as a manager to add weight to his ideas. The clickbait cynics failed to appreciate that twenty plus years working with some of the sport’s great minds might teach a player a thing or two.

After a short stint at Genoa ended in December 2019, the 2-7-2 was brought up again and used to beat Motta, failing to take into context that when working for Enrico Preziosi, you’re often better staying in a hotel than bothering to settle anywhere while under the thumb of a prolific manager eater. Eighteen months later, he was back in work at Spezia, replacing Vincenzo Italiano after he left to be Italy’s next top manager at Fiorentina.

Spezia steered clear of relegation and Motta was lauded as the hero.

Spezia had just survived against the odds in their first ever Serie A season and much of the credit lay with Italiano. A transfer ban for breaking the rules on signing underage players loomed and most expected Motta to return Spezia to Serie B. Instead, they steered clear of relegation and Motta was lauded as the hero. Still, he walked away at the end of the season, like his predecessor, with bigger things on the horizon in Bologna.

At Bologna, he has finally been given the tools to play football his way. It is there that Motta has truly transformed into the hot property that attracted interest from PSG in the summer, but it would be foolish to suggest that it has been anything like smooth sailing. There have been mistakes, but he’s been given time to fix them, perhaps a luxury afforded by the fact that he’s no longer managing a side with a real imminent threat of relegation.

Motta replaced Sinisa Mihajlovic last September after Bologna failed to win any of their first five games of the 2022-23 season. Mihajlovic had overseen four seasons as manager while receiving chemotherapy for leukaemia, even going through treatment in the summer prior to being sacked. Three months after Motta took the job, Mihajlovic passed away from complications due to leukaemia.

The new coach had earned just one point from his first four games, and even that was met with boos at Renato dall’Ara after a limp 1-1 with an awful Sampdoria team. A home win over Lecce sparked a run of four wins from five before the World Cup, setting the tone somewhat for their run to a respectable 9th place finish. 

Bologna can start to look up the table now.

Bologna are building something. President Joey Saputo brought in recruitment wizard Giovanni Sartori as sporting director last year, who had worked wonders with Atalanta recently, and Chievo before that. Cultivating a squad to meet Motta’s needs and provide the club with sufficient resale value, as is (unfortunately) necessary in this era, Bologna can start to look up the table, rather than just making sure they aren’t worrying about what’s happening below.

Sitting in 8th place and unbeaten since losing to Milan on the opening day, they go to San Siro a totally different side from the raw, easily exposed one that Inter thumped last time. Granted, Inter are a more frightening prospect now, but Bologna’s ambitious attack and reasonably solid defence should give the scudetto favourites a real challenge.

Can Motta follow in the footsteps of the man who saved his career and take a provincial side into the Champions League, just like Gasperini did with the help of Sartori at Atalanta? Perhaps asking too much, but you would have said the same a few years ago about La Dea.

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