Is Erick Thohir what Internazionale need to return them to glory?

With the talk of a boardroom takeover at arguably one of Italy’s biggest clubs having been constant since the beginning of the summer it now appears as if we are ever closer to reaching a conclusion to the saga surrounding Internazionale of Milan. The current owner, the enigmatic Massimo Moratti confirmed in the last few days that the sale of a majority 75% stake in the club to Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir could take place within the week.

The Moratti family have held significant invested interest in the Milanese club dating back to 1955 when Massimo’s father, Angelo, would become club president. This partnership would be a rather fruitful one which over the course of the thirteen years Angelo spent at the helm of the club saw Internazionale win their first ever European Cup in 1964 The trophy was retained just a year later when Moratti’s Internazionale side defeated Benfica in the final.

The baton was eventually passed down from father to son when Massimo took control of the club in 1995 with the sole goal of at the very least matching his father’s haul of two European Cups. However Moratti in this instance would only hold the presidency for nine years before taking over once again in 2006 after a two year hiatus. Massimo Moratti to this day has managed to win one European Cup after a Jose Mourinho inspired Internazionale side conquered the continent in 2010 with what can now be considered an ‘old team’. The legacy of this team did not last long with the figurehead Mourinho leaving to join Real Madrid that very summer. The club never really recovered and with Moratti unable to pump in the finances required to succeed at the very very top level in modern football, Internazionale have slipped down the pecking order within their own country and it appears as though Moratti has decided his time with the Nerazzurri is coming to an end.

Erick Thohir at just forty three years of age is a sizeably successful businessman with the main body of his fortune coming through the inherited family business and ownership of several Indonesian media outlets including the television station ‘tvOne’ and the Newspaper ‘Republika’. This fortune has allowed Thohir the freedom to expand his empire into the world of sport and Internazionale supporters may be able to take some solace in the fact their club wouldn’t be Thohir’s first venture of its type.

In 2011 Thohir was part of a consortium which led a takeover of NBA Basketball team, the Philadelphia 76ers, this coupled with his ownership of a number of Indonesian basketball franchises provided a solid base for Thohir to begin to understand how sports franchises worked and how to use his money to improve their success both on and off the field/court. It is interesting to note that in the takeover of the 76ers, Erick Thohir was closely aided by a former basketball agent, Jason Levien who has stuck with Thohir ever since.

Levien and Thohir then set their sights on a football franchise, this time targeting the MLS’ own D.C. United. Their takeover bid was successful in July 2012 with Thohir and Levien forming a three way ownership agreement alongside fellow investor Will Chang with the aim of propelling D.C. United to a successful period on the field as well as finally securing the funds for a new stadium which had been the source of frustration for D.C. United for a number of years.

The partnership between Thohir and Levien is an intriguing dynamic. Levien has a background within the sporting world having made his name, and money, as a basketball agent. This experience within the sporting arena is something which I believe Thohir is trying to tap into when purchasing ownership of numerous sports franchises. There has been no official word as yet whether Levien would be part of Thohir’s consortium if and when the takeover of Internazionale is completed however it would be a pretty safe bet to assume Levien will be involved in one way or another. The way I can characterise the relationship between the pair and the job Levien does to an English audience specifically would be to recall the role undertaken for many years by David Dein at Arsenal.

David Dein had a fantastic working knowledge of not only the business side of football but also the sporting side and as a result of this was always able to assist Arsene Wenger in transfer matters in a manner which greatly benefitted Arsenal. Dein knew how football worked, he knew how agents worked and how players in the midst of negotiations worked, he used all this knowledge to his advantage to persuade players to join Arsenal when in truth they had better financial offers on the table from other clubs. James Levien has been part of Thohir’s sports ownerships to offer the very same role, Levien as I have previously mentioned is a sports orientated man and knows how the business within sports works having been an agent himself. Thohir is willing to place his trust in Levien’s knowledge of the sports world and back him financially in order to achieve results.

Whilst there is currently what feels like a semi-permanent dark cloud surrounding the Milanese giant, things in truth can conceivable improve quickly. Internazionale are very fortunate in the sense they have managed to secure Walter Mazzarri as their manager this past summer. This may very well be the Moratti family’s final gift to the club. Mazzarri is an exceptional man manager, as well as a tactician as we saw during his years at Napoli, despite never making that final step and winning the Scudetto. Internazionale’s current high league position in Serie A is testament to Mazzarri however the 3-0 drubbing at home to high flying Roma really highlighted just how poor the Internazionale squad currently is.

There are players within that squad who have been brought in simply as a cost-saving measure due to the lack of funds available at the club. The recent sales of big name players such as Wesley Sneijder, Samuel Eto’o and Julio Cesar were yet again financially motivated measures. The club not only needed the money from the sales but also could no longer afford to offer those players the astronomical wages that they were promised during the club’s recent on field boom period. As a result we have seen the more talented players leave and less talented players come into the squad on sizeably lower wages. This was a measure that has seen Internazionale fall out of the cash cow that is the UEFA Champions League after finishing 9th last season in what was the club’s worst final standing since finishing 13th in 1994.

Internazionale knowing full well the finances were on the decline took a gamble bringing in Andrea Stramaccioni as manager following his successes as the coach of the Internazionale Primavera side which won the 2012 edition of the NextGen series. It was hoped that Stramaccioni being the impressive tactician he was could nurture through the crop of up and coming young players from the Primavera and keep Internazionale competitive whilst the money was not available for the big purchases which have characterised the Massimo Moratti era. This project unfortunately was probably started too soon for everyone and eventually ended in disappointment with players not making the grade quickly enough and Stramaccioni, albeit not free from blame, having to persevere with a lack of quality within the first team.

D.C. United, following the takeover of Thohir and Levien, saw their fortunes turn in a positive manner. They finished an impressive 2012 MLS campaign in second place in the Eastern Conference and third overall in the MLS. This was a huge improvement from the 2011 campaign which saw D.C. United finish a lowly thirteenth in the MLS. Thohir’s impact albeit coming half way through the campaign was significant and there is forward progress currently being made on the construction of a new stadium with planning permission having been submitted to the required authorities for a site near ‘Nationals Park’ baseball stadium.

Thohir is a billionaire and will be able to pump considerable finance into Internazionale, Thohir seems a very astute man as we have seen not only in his previous business ventures but also his alliance with sports mogul Levien. Thohir is rumoured to yet again be looking to surround himself with ‘football people’ by asking Massimo Moratti to stay on as part of the board for at least six months after he completes his proposed takeover. With the experience of Moratti and the sports brain of Levien, provided he joins up with Thohir in this particular venture coupled with the mammoth financing Thohir can provide this may well be the deal that rescues Internazionale. Money will be able to be spent in the transfer market and a lot of players considered ‘deadwood’ will be able to leave the club. With all this financing being trusted to a proven coach in Mazzarri the future may well be bright for Internazionale and it is a whole lot closer than people thought possible.

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