Andrea Stramaccioni walks into Inter's dressing room for the first time. He stands in front of the players and, for a moment, a sense of self-awareness overwhelms him. Promoted from the youth team job days earlier following his triumph in the NextGen series, he is Inter's third coach of the season. They are eighth in the table and in crisis.
Claudio Ranieri has just been sacked following a 2-0 defeat to Juventus in Turin. It's one of Inter's worst seasons on record. They haven't lost as many games at this stage since the late '40s. At 36, Stramaccioni is the youngest coach in Serie A. He has never worked at this level before. Among those looking at him expectantly is Javier Zanetti. The Inter captain and treble winner is three years his senior.
Stramaccioni wonders what they all must be thinking. "Their faces were worth more than a thousand words," Stramaccioni told Tuttosport. "They seemed to be saying: 'Now who the f**k's this? Where have they got him from? He has an unpronounceable name, no past, where will we get with him?"
Eight months on, Inter have come a long way. Further, in all honesty, than anyone thought possible after the lows of the last campaign. The fact they are where they are today - second in the table, a point behind the leaders and genuinely in contention for the title - is down to Stramaccioni to a large degree. That in itself is remarkable for a couple of reasons.
First, because, by his own admission, until last spring, he had never played or coached beyond youth level. "I believe that I am different from the others," Stramaccioni told Il Corriere della Sera. "Because with respect to my friend Vincenzo Montella [with whom he worked in Roma's youth sector] and Antonio Conte [the other coaching revelation of recent years in Serie A] I had zero experience.
"I lacked experience as a footballer [his promising career as a defender was cut short after a serious knee injury at Bologna] and as an assistant manager. They already knew, for example, how to manage the build up to a game or how to face the pressure, an impressive advantage."
The second point to comment on here - and it's perhaps made even more extraordinary in light of how new Stramaccioni is to coaching at the highest level, not to mention the problems he inherited - is how he has succeeded where Jose Mourinho's other successors at Inter failed, restoring the team and its once formidable reputation in such a short space of time.
Everything we'd been told about what this group of players could no longer do has been proven to be a lie. For instance, Rafa Benitez claimed Inter could no longer play with an attacking trident. And yet they've done just that under Stramaccioni. Then there was the impression following Gian Piero Gasperini's spell in charge that Inter weren't suited to a three-man defence. Well, they've been cajoled into mastering it under Stramaccioni.
On Saturday, it might be said that Inter and their coach came full circle. Appointed after a defeat to Juventus in Turin, Stramaccioni went and won on his first visit there at the weekend. Inter hadn't tasted victory under the Mole Antonelliana for seven years. What made it all the sweeter was that they became the first team to win at the Juventus Stadium since its inauguration last season and, more significantly, ended Juventus' unbeaten run in Serie A, just as Manchester United did to Arsenal's Invincibles in the Premier League in 2004, at 49 games.
The obvious temptation here is to get carried away, as many people have done, both with Inter and, in particular, Stramaccioni.
Juventus had to lose at some point. Forgotten in the polemic that followed their trip to Catania was how the champions had made the best start to a season in Serie A since the introduction of three points for a win in 1994, breaking the record they themselves set under Fabio Capello in the season that the Calciopoli scandal broke.
Sure, Juventus' finishing is a concern and recent results have owed more to their incredible ability to dig deep within themselves and find a way to win rather than make things look easy. But to seriously question their credentials for the Scudetto and suggest that they won't know how to respond to a loss - ignoring how defeat to Napoli in last year's Coppa Italia final left no enduring scars - is exaggerated.
Still, Inter deserve recognition and respect. Nine consecutive wins in all competitions. Nine in a row away from home too. There's certainly some justification to believe the hype that this year's title race in Serie A will be a two-horse race and might even break the 100-point barrier.
Stramaccioni's hand in all of this is clearer than that of most coaches. Instead of the Biscione or Snake that is Inter's symbol, they have been more like a chameleon this season, shape-shifting from one game to another, changing system seven times. On the one hand, this was because they were a work in progress with repeated experimentation necessary to find balance. On the other, it was to tailor the team to the opposition they faced.
Just like against Catania, for instance, when, to counter their best player, the left-sided wing-forward Alejandro Gomez, he played the left-footed Joel Obi as a right wing-back. Or against Bologna when he asked Gaby Mudingayi, aware that he had played and trained with their playmaker Alessandro Diamanti for the last couple of seasons, to use his experience to man-mark him.
What the above examples show is that Stramaccioni's preparation is meticulous. He's a details man and no more so was that evident than in the 3-1 win against Juventus. He left nothing to chance. Is it any wonder Stramaccioni got so angry when he heard Juventus' general manager Beppe Marotta describe his bold decision to play a 3-4-3 as "carefree"?
To Inter's coach, it couldn't be future from the truth. This formation had been chosen for a reason. It wasn't happy-go-lucky. "We studied and prepared for the game to perfection," Stramaccioni said. "The trident wasn't meant to be a coup de théâtre or a move just for effect. In my opinion it was the way to put them in difficulty."
Indeed, Inter's trio up front pressed Juventus' back three to stop them playing out from the back. It's enough to look at the fall in centre-back Leonardo Bonucci's distribution figures to discover as much. When they weren't occupied with that, Rodrigo Palacio and Diego Milito also took it in turns to cover Andrea Pirlo.
"Usually it's the trequartista who marks him," wrote Mario Sconcerti in Il Corriere della Sera. "This time he had a big striker on him. Losing the ball would mean sending him through on goal. It was like putting Gigi Riva on [Giacomo] Bulgarelli."
When they weren't in Pirlo's face, Esteban Cambiasso got up in his grill instead. Other little things made a big difference too. Such as the left centre-back Juan Jesus gambling by leaving Walter Samuel and Andrea Ranocchia two v two with Mirko Vucinic and Sebastian Giovinco, but also showing a good positional sense and timing, to step up and snuff out Arturo Vidal.
The introduction of Fredy Guarin for Antonio Cassano with 20 minutes remaining ensured that the pressure on Pirlo remained high throughout. It was to Guarin that he lost the ball soon afterwards and thus precipitated the move that led to Inter taking the lead.
Rather than indulge in self-pity when they fell behind after 18 seconds to a goal that should never have stood and the injustice of playing against 11 when Juventus should later have been reduced to 10, Inter, unlike on other occasions, managed to keep their heads and execute Stramaccioni's gameplan brilliantly.
Inevitably comparisons were drawn once more with Jose Mourinho, not least because of what happened on the Wednesday before the Derby d'Italia. Stramaccioni had met Inter president Massimo Moratti to reveal how he wanted Inter to play Juventus. "When I told him that I'd be playing with three attackers, I thought: 'Now he'll sack me'. But he didn't. Moratti encouraged me." Stramaccioni needn't have worried.
"He explained the game in detail to me," Moratti recalled. "It went exactly how he'd prepared and how he'd described it to me. Three days earlier, he'd said to me: 'We can frighten them with three strikers'. He was of his word."
That ability to anticipate the opposition, remove the element of surprise and, by extension, any insecurity is one of the reasons many believe Stramaccioni will be one of the great managers of the next decade. Tactics, however, aren't enough on their own.
As Mourinho has shown throughout his career, you need charisma, courage of conviction and, perhaps most important of all, to be a great communicator. "I can have all the ideas in the world," Stramaccioni explained, "but it's up to the players' to interpret them... I can be the greatest psychologist but if I don't know how to communicate it's useless." Luckily for Stramaccioni, he's got the gift of the gab.
While extremely reluctant to compare one with the other, striker Diego Milito said: "The thing [Mourinho and him] have in common is their ability to get the right message across and extract the best from each of us." Zanetti added: "We all feel important." That was evident in Guarin's performance against Juventus. Although, he started on the bench for the fifth time in eight games, he still felt part of it all and went on to make a telling contribution when he came on.
In the meantime, Stramaccioni has been at pains to insist he isn't the second coming of the Special One. "I am not the Special Two," he said.
Strama, it seems, is just special full stop.
James Horncastle will be blogging for us on all matters Serie A throughout the season. He contributes to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, The Blizzard and Champions magazine amongst others.