Ever Banega is the perfect piece to Inter Milan's midfield puzzle
An oft-repeated complaint from Inter Milan's 2015-16 season reads as follows: coach Roberto Mancini will be unable to achieve his tactical dreams if the club fails to add another skillful player to the midfield mix.
Manchester City's Yaya Toure and Lazio's Antonio Candreva and Lucas Biglia have all been linked to the Nerazzurri in recent weeks, but Mancini may have already found the player he so desires in Argentine midfielder Ever Banega, who joined the club this summer on a free transfer.
Banega isn't just a capable playmaker, he may well be the signing that makes the team gel and takes Inter's ailing attack (the club only managed only 50 goals last season, seventh in Serie A) to the next level.
At 27, Banega is at the peak of his powers, something we saw in Sevilla's systematic second-half demolition of Liverpool in the 2015-16 Europa League final. The former Valencia man was everywhere -- whether it was slipping a clever pass through to a winger, going for a one-two with a striker or finding a teammate with a clever long ball in. It may be quicker to list the things Banega can't do.
Argentine football has long been obsessed with the enganche, the famous No. 10 capable of link-up play, the next Diego Maradona, a player prone to running with abandon at opposition defences. It was sad to see a number of much-touted successors like Andres D'Alessandro, Ariel Ortega and Pablo Aimar come up short in Europe, attempting to physically carry teams (and expectations) on their backs, largely to no avail.
What makes Banega so different? To start, rather than attempting to beat his man (which he can do, anyways), he is an extremely intelligent passer -- a quick flick from his tip-toeing feet often frees his teammates in space. He's a phenomenal playmaker, too, and does well to win the ball back, a skill most evident in an elegant dispossession of a Brazilian opponent to jump start an Argentina counter-attack in a Nov. 2015 qualifier.
Banega's clever work on the ball will come in handy for an Inter midfield that was often unable to keep possession, and allow the Nerazzurri to finally boast a Juan Sebastian Veron-like passer in midfield. Ironically, Inter only won one Scudetto with Veron, and that was largely due to the infamous Calcioipoli match scandal of 2006. Admittedly, they didn't have to worry too much about competition at that point in time, but the Nerazzurri were also far more consistent in beating small teams and keeping the scoreboard ticking, something the current side desperately needs to improve upon.
This is where Inter's current rebuild comes into focus: rather than selling their stars to buy a player who will have to adapt, why not stick to Marcelo Brozovic and Ivan Perisic and build around them? Inter already have many of the components required of a successful midfield: a couple of ball winners in Geoffrey Kondogbia and Gary Medel, a box-to-box man in Brozovic, two wingers in Perisic and Jonathan Biabiany, and a star striker in Mauro Icardi. What's the point in spending at least €25 million on Candreva when you're adding three-time Europa League champion Banega to your midfield?
Banega will be the missing piece that completes the midfield, the piece that finally provides stability in a role where others -- Stevan Jovetic, Adem Ljajic and Mateo Kovacic to name three -- have failed to perform on a consistent basis. While last season often saw Inter either score on the counter or fail to turn possession into incisive passing (see the home defeat to Sassuolo for a good example), they now have the kind of player who can link it all together and give the attack skill and brains in equal measure.
Speaking of transfers, it has become apparent that, despite their relative penury, Inter have been rebuilding every season since they won the Treble in 2009-10. The club is now being linked to the kind of flash players that will serve their cause upon their eventual return to the Champions League. But wouldn't it serve them better to become Serie A experts first, as Juventus did when they won their first post-relegation Scudetto in 2012? European success was quick to follow.
Let's hope Inter can take things one step at a time, and avoid another return to the drawing board.
Edoardo Dalmonte covers Inter Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @EdoDalmonte.