Lele Oriali is a wanted man. At a stage in the season when strategies and performance from the past year or two come under scrutiny at unsuccessful clubs and plans are drawn up for rectifying change in the summer, Oriali’s name drifts into focus. Sections of Inter’s support, who have watched a dreadful season unfold in front of them, have called for his return, as Fiorentina reportedly look to appease their support’s equal anger by bringing him in to replace dethroned sporting director Pantaleo Corvino.
Where general anticipation of the Italian summer transfer market may be centred on the likes of Carlos Tevez, Alexandre Pato and Alessandro Del Piero, attention is also on Oriali. Described by sections of the Italian media as a transfer guru, he is seemingly a proven talent in the position of sporting director and one whose CV argues somewhat convincingly that he can also work to any budget and under any number of superiors.
Whether or not working towards a specific project, both Inter and Fiorentina have demonstrated perhaps more than most in Italy over the past couple of seasons why the role of sporting director – one often derided and misunderstood in the UK – can be integral to Italian football. It is almost inarguable now that falling short in correct identification of targets and/or implementation of negotiations has been detrimental to on-pitch results for both teams.
Regardless of Coach changes, the Florence outfit have gone from being a relative Champions League regular until 2010 to relegation candidates this term, whilst the Milanese – 2010 treble winners – have endured a historically bad season with a countless number of unwanted landmarks. Yet, from almost 600 qualified sporting directors in the peninsula, Oriali’s is one of the few names being prominently pushed forward for both as they plan for change.
He is a man with links to both clubs. A member of the youth team at Inter during the club’s heyday in the 1960s with the prominence of La Grande Inter that won seven major titles in just four years, Oriali spent over a decade as an integral member of the Nerazzurri team of the 1970s. A hard-working, selfless and versatile midfielder, Oriali won two Scudetti with the club and the 1982 World Cup with Italy before spending the final few seasons of his career with Fiorentina. Despite an affinity shared with supporters from both La Beneamata and La Viola for his on-pitch contributions, the reason he is being targeted by fans of the former and management at the latter is because of his work since retiring.
Beginning at Bologna as sporting director in 1994, Oriali has developed a reputation for keen negotiation and channelled work in the transfer market. With the Felsinei he sourced the likes of Carlo Nervo, Francesco Antonioli and Michele Paramatti from lower-League relative obscurity to construct a side that not only won successive promotions from Serie C1 to A, but then achieved consecutive top-half finishes in the top flight. He also convinced Roberto Baggio to spend the 1997-98 season at the Renato Dall’Ara, before a single term with Parma in 1998 saw him bring the Ducali notable purchases in the form of Abel Balbo and Juan Sebastian Veron from Roma and Sampdoria respectively.
Then came his return to the blue half of San Siro in 1999, where he would spend 11 years in the role of technical director. Working with President Massimo Moratti, the late Giacinto Facchetti and sporting directors Giuliano Terraneo and then Marco Branca, Oriali is credited with a leading role in shaping Inter’s squad through the last decade.
The 60-year-old recently suggested himself that the only major transfer in this period that he did not work on was Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 2009 departure, but that, with the now lambasted Branca in tow, every other deal – including Samuel Eto’o’s arrival as part of Ibra’s sale – had his stamp on it one way or another. Perhaps the biggest indicator of his success in identifying correct targets for the team came in the 2010 Champions League Final, when 10 of the 11 starters for Jose Mourinho’s side were Oriali purchases. During his 11 seasons, Inter won five Scudetti, three Coppa Italias, three Italian Super Cups and one European Cup.
That his departure from the club – after a falling out upon Amedeo Carboni’s arrival for the same role for Rafa Benitez in July 2010 – coincides with the beginning of Inter’s movement into a downward spiral has merely cemented the theory of Oriali’s competency in the market.
More than once has Oriali stated his desire to return to San Siro for a second go, but a difficult relationship with Branca, who Moratti reportedly wants to keep at the club in one capacity or another, has seen Fiorentina enter negotiations. La Viola, who on a side note are interestingly reluctant to work with Inter in the market, are apparently keen to pair him up with another prominent sporting director, Chievo’s Giovanni Sartori.
Such is Oriali’s track record, whilst Inter and Fiorentina fans may be praying for some eye-catching transfers to be made in the summer, their best hope for the best kind of deals may lie in who is negotiating for them. Indeed, Oriali’s may be the most important transfer of the summer market.
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