There is a sadness to the Dutchman's exit but Inter should focus on what they have rather than what they have lost
Napoli closed the gap at the top of Serie A without so much as kicking a ball on Thursday, when their two-point deduction was wiped out on appeal. The Partenopei had been penalised in the standings, as well as fined, after their captain, Paolo Cannavaro, and his fellow defender Gianluca Grava were found guilty of failing to report an attempted fix by the reserve goalkeeper Matteo Gianello, but the federal court ruled that his testimony had been unreliable.
The appeal verdict – which also overturned the suspensions handed down to Cannavaro and Grava – moved Napoli back to within three points of Juventus, sparking excited talk of a revived title race. That lasted all of three days, before Napoli were held to a 1-1 draw at Fiorentina – less than 24 hours after Juve had thrashed Udinese 4-0. Lazio, who began the weekend level with Napoli in second place, also drew their game against Palermo.
There is plenty of time left for further twists and turns, but this was a week when events on the pitch somehow felt as though they were always playing second fiddle to those off it.
At San Siro, Giampaolo Pazzini scored an outrageous goal – lifting the ball over Daniele Portanova with one touch and volleying it home with the next – but what Milan fans really wanted to know was whether Ricky Kaká would soon be rejoining them. For their city rivals the question was almost the exact opposite. When would Wesley Sneijder finally give up the ghost and leave?
For now Kaká's future remains up in the air, with the Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi and vice-president Adriano Galliani, making no secret of their desire to bring the player back to the club, but simultaneously reminding us of the financial challenges involved. With Sneijder, though, there is at last clarity. On Sunday, shortly before Internazionale took on Roma at the Stadio Olimpico, his transfer to Galatasaray was confirmed.
The Turkish club will pay an initial €8m, with bonuses adding the potential for a further €2m. Many will view that as a modest fee for a 28-year-old who is less than three years removed from playing a starring role in Inter's treble-winning side. But what really stuck in the throat for Inter's fans were reports that Sneijder had required a golden handshake from the team's owner, Massimo Moratti, before he would finally agree to move.
But if Inter might have hoped for a better deal, then the reality was that there were no others on the table. Any evaluation of the transfer must take into account the importance to Inter of getting the player's €6m-per-year salary off their wage bill, and the club's fans will hope that his departure may now create room for the club to reinforce in other areas.
There is an inevitable sadness to Sneijder's departure – representing as it does yet another step towards the unpicking of the 2010 treble-winning side. Just five of the 11 players who started Inter's Champions League final against Bayern Munich still remain, and for the most part their replacements have not performed to a similar level.
It has been some time, though, since Sneijder resembled the player seen during that campaign. A combination of injury and Inter's managerial instability – Andrea Stramaccioni is the club's fifth boss in two-and-a-half seasons since José Mourinho – have done the player no favours, but nor has his own inflexibility.
Sneijder shone under the Portuguese in a team that was built around him – a 4-3-1-2 in which he had freedom to roam between the midfield and attack – but such a formation has its drawbacks, leaving the team narrow and reliant on exceptional play from its full-backs. The decline and departure of Maicon has required subsequent managers to think a little differently, but Sneijder has never looked the same playing in any other role.
And if Inter needed reasons to believe that there could be life beyond the Dutchman, then they will have found some on Sunday in the performance of Fredy Guarín. Signed last January to upgrade a midfield short on creativity, Guarín had alternated excellent performances with questionable ones – his vision and energy occasionally offset by tactical indiscipline.
Now Stramaccioni has found another way in which to utilise the player, deploying him behind a two-man attack in a 3-4-1-2. While not completely absolving Guarín of defensive duties, moving further up the pitch has seemed to suit the player's attacking instincts. It was from that position that he scored in Inter's win over Pescara last weekend, then again in the Coppa Italia victory against Bologna on Tuesday. On Sunday, he instead took on the role of provider.
Inter had fallen a goal behind early at the Stadio Olimpico, Francesco Totti blasting his penalty into the roof of the net after Michael Bradley went down in the area. It had been a contentious award, with Andrea Ranocchia protesting that the American ought to have been the one penalised after his boot caught the defender's head, but certainly it had been an ill-advised challenge for the Inter player to make in his own box.
On the stroke of half-time, Guarín created an equaliser. After seeing a shot charged down about 20 yards out, there was absolutely no way that he should have been the first to retrieve the rebound inside the Roma area. And yet he was, muscling past two defenders before cutting the ball back from the goalline for Rodrigo Palacio to side-foot home. Roma appealed for handball, but replays were ambiguous at best.
It was a very different goal to the sort which Sneijder used to fashion for this team – borne out of power and speed more than craft and guile. It is also far too soon to suggest that Guarín can achieve the sort of levels that Sneijder did at his best for the Nerazzurri. But as evidence that Inter can move on now without the Dutchman it was certainly reassuring. As tempting as it is to remember the Sneijder of 2010, the truth is that even before being frozen out this season, his contributions had been modest for some time.
The game finished 1-1, with neither team showing anything close to their best. Inter, though, will certainly be the happier with the result – their first away win in five Serie A games. Palacio's strike, indeed, represented their first league goal away from San Siro since 11 November.
With both Diego Milito and Antonio Cassano missing out due to injury, the performance of Marko Livaja up front alongside Rodrigo Palacio was also encouraging. His first-half volley which came back off the inside of the post would have been a goal of the month contender had it flown a few more inches to the right.
As it is, Inter and Roma must prepare for two more meetings in the next nine days, in their two-legged Coppa Italia semi-final. With the Sneijder saga finally resolved, Inter hope to get the focus back on to what they have, rather than what they have lost.
• The game against Inter was Totti's 520th in Serie A. That moves him above Giuseppe Bergomi into sole possession of 10th-place on the division's all-time appearances list. Next up: Gianni Rivera on 527.
• Edinson Cavani scored his 100th Serie A goal in Napoli's draw, but that was rather overshadowed by the calamitous nature of the one his team conceded. Fiorentina's Facundo Roncaglia was seeking to do no more than pump a long ball into the box from near halfway, but the Napoli goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis completely misjudged the flight of the ball, advancing too far up the pitch and allowing it to sail straight over his head, then bounce into the net.
• And while we're on the subject of gaffes, skip to the 40-second mark in this video to see Marco Borriello clearing the crossbar from four yards out during Genoa's loss to Catania. His team would lose the game 2-0, and shortly after full-time the manager Gigi Del Neri was sacked. Don't put that all on one misfiring forward, though – Genoa had lost nine of their 13 games since Del Neri took charge, winning just two.
• Paul Pogba was the star of Juventus's win on Saturday, opening the scoring with a stunning strike from 30 yards and then following up with another from similar range to make it 2-0. "Pogboom," yelped the front page of Sunday's Gazzetta dello Sport, who opted for variations on a theme with "Pogbangbang" for their inside headline. The manager Antonio Conte might have been as pleased with the player's post-match comments as the performance itself. "When [Claudio] Marchisio and [Andrea] Pirlo return I will go back on the bench without complaints," said Pogba. "Marchisio is a great player, and the team comes first."
• A spot of sweet revenge for Beppe Iachini, who recorded his first win as manager of Siena against Sampdoria – his former employers, who replaced him last summer immediately after he had got them promoted from Serie B. Things got rather heated at the end – Iachini exchanging words with the Samp captain Daniele Gastaldello, before the losing team's goalkeeper Sergio Romero had to be restrained by team-mates as he charged the Siena bench.
Results: Atalanta 1-1 Cagliari, Chievo 1-1 Parma, Fiorentina 1-1 Napoli, Genoa 0-2 Catania, Juventus 4-0 Udinese, Milan 2-1 Bologna, Palermo 2-2 Lazio, Pescara 0-2 Torino, Roma 1-1 Inter, Siena 1-0 Sampdoria.