What the f*ck is going on at Inter!?
The Nerazzurri rounded off their domestic campaign in style on Saturday night as they waltzed past the free-flowing Atalanta in Bergamo. It was a result which meant wig-haired stallion Antonio Conte had guided the club to their best points tally since the ‘Treble’, and just a mere point adrift of champions Juventus in his debut campaign.
So how, almost immediately after the Atalanta victory, did the future of the club’s finest string-puller since Jose Mourinho came to town get thrust into such considerable doubt?
Three words: post-match interview.
“Beginning of an era at Inter? Listen, this was a very tough year for me, even on a personal level. At the end of the year, we’ll all make our evaluations for what happens next season. At any possible opportunity, Inter was criticised, too much criticism and I don’t like this.
“Am I staying at Inter? We need to focus on the present and recover energy for the Europa League. This has not been an easy year for me,” Conte explained following Saturday night’s triumph.
“I was brought here for a winning project, and at the end, I will explain what didn’t work for me this year. There are a lot of things I did not like. Zero protection for the players and coach [from the club in regards to attacks from the media]. Absolutely zero,” he added, aggressively making out the figure with his fingers.
“I have a vision unlike others, if we want to do this journey together than ok…And I’m not talking about the transfer market, the transfer market has nothing to do with this.”
It’s typical Conte; accurate on the most part with the content, but missing the mark with the delivery. So often does he talk to the Italian media like he’s addressing a group of players 2-0 down at half-time in the Derby della Madonnina. That’s his downfall. The Godfather syndrome.
Nevertheless, as he concluded in Bergamo, this “premeditated and calculated” tirade in the eyes of former Inter director Ernesto Paolillo wasn’t about investment – he’s already huffed and puffed his way into earning one of Europe’s brightest creative minds and a bona fide superstar at wing-back – this time, it’s a little more complicated.
Amid his verbal barrage, the former Azzurri boss cited a pre-match presser from his predecessor Luciano Spalletti in 2017, in which Spalletti raised suggestions of a ‘mole’ within the Inter board who leaks internal information to the Italian media.
“They sent me an interview with Spalletti who said very serious things. We are in 2020 and are still back to that,” Conte said, implying that the Colin Sullivan-esque figure is still very much in play – running their mouth to the Corriere dello Sports of the world like they’re in a Martin Scorsese thriller starring Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Inter icon Beppe Bergomi, meanwhile, believes the manager is desperate to “flush out certain executives”, with Nerazzurri sports director Piero Ausilio rumoured to be the primary target of Conte’s attack on the club’s leadership.
45-year-old Ausilio is the only executive still at the club from the Spalletti era.
It’s just all a bit too political – as it so often is when Conte’s involved. Instead of dwelling on hierarchy misdemeanours and internal friction, we should all be appreciating a fine end to the Serie A campaign from a side who constantly intrigued and enthralled, establishing grins on the faces of Interisti with often telepathic combination play and ruthless efficiency in transition.
Those Conte automatisms, eh? Dreamy.
While the 2019/20 campaign is yet to result in tangible glory, the signs suggest Inter are on the cusp of building something very special with the former Juventus and Chelsea boss pulling the strings.
Their penultimate fixture of the league campaign saw Inter host a Napoli side who’ve rediscovered an identity under Gennaro Gattuso.
So often this season we’ve seen Conte’s Inter drop points late on in games – shown by the Bologna defeat as well as Verona and Sassuolo draws after the restart – or in contests they’ve dominated, but on this occasion the tables turned completely.
Although Inter took an early lead and were able to ask serious questions of the Napoli defence through Conte’s use of marauding exterior centre-backs – with Danilo D’Ambrosio opening the scoring – there’s no doubting who the dominant force was that night, especially following D’Ambrosio’s early opener.
Gattuso’s side found alternate solutions to space and chance creation superbly – as Inter expertly prevented Napoli’s typically effective press-baiting from having a major say on proceedings – which allowed them to progress up the field efficiently and test Samir Handanovic regularly. A more clinical display would’ve seen them go into the break at least level and as their superiority ensued following the start of the second period, an equaliser seemed inevitable – especially against this Inter side.
But the Nerazzurri refused to fold. Buoyed by immense defensive displays from the imperious Stefan de Vrij and insanely talented Alessandro Bastoni, Inter kept out the relentless visitors before Lautaro Martinez secured a 2-0 victory with a superb strike from distance.
It was the sort of performance that would’ve thrilled Conte, with his notorious grinta laid bare.
However, we’d seen this tale before.
After Romelu Lukaku headed home in stoppage time to round off a sensational comeback against Milan in February’s Derby della Madonnina, many believed the foundations had been swiftly laid for a Scudetto assault. The type of showing in which the ‘never say die’ mentality was on full display, much like the Napoli victory – albeit in different circumstances.
But Inter followed that unforgettable derby triumph with defeat to I Partenopei in the Coppa Italia and back-to-back defeats in Serie A to Juventus and Lazio which thwarted their title charge. The epitome of a false dawn.
On this occasion, though, a comfortable 2-0 breezing of Atalanta on the final day – with Ashley Young continuing to shine and throwing it back to 2011 for the Nerazzurri’s second – signalled a clear sign of intent post-Napoli and these two results only emphasised the direction this Inter side are heading.
The business they’ve done and set to do mean they may well boast one of Europe’s most balanced and impressive starting XIs next term, but wouldn’t it be great to see Conte overseeing it all. The profile of the squad is tailor-made for his system.
A video conference between Conte and president Steven Zhang on Monday was described as “cordial”, but a decision overThe Godfather’s future won’t be made until after their Europa League campaign – which resumes of Wednesday with Inter one of the favourites to go all the way.
Despite the potential of an equally superb coach in Massimiliano Allegri succeeding Conte if he was to depart this summer, they’d be wise to keep the latter on their books for the entirety of his three-year contract – which he’s said he still intends to respect (amid rumours linking him with the Juve job).
So despite obvious tension and the potential of a resignation, there’s no questioning Inter’s upward trajectory. The manner in which Conte’s instilled his unique, autocratic ideals this term has been admirable.
Plus, they may well have the optimal man at the helm to sniff out and challenge anyone in the club’s hierarchy who, well, doesn’t deserve to be there. Antonio Conte doesn’t sugarcoat anything – much to his own detriment, mind.