Inter’s 2019/20 season was littered with Romelu Lukaku goals, former Premier League players and defeats in high-profile matches. But nothing could outnumber the litany of gripes, grumbles and moans which tumbled out of their manager Antonio Conte.
Less than three months into his spell at San Siro, Conte aimed a telling barb at the Inter hierarchy. Utterly exacerbated after a Champions League defeat to Borussia Dortmund, Conte whined: “Who do I call on? Nicolò Barella, who we signed from Cagliari? Or Stefano Sensi, who arrived from Sassuolo?”
The intended implication of this jibe was not to denigrate the performances of Sensi or Barella – who enjoyed superb patches at either end of the season – but to highlight the lack of winning experience added to a club who have gone the best part of a decade without silverware.
As Conte pointed out: “We are talking about a group of players who, apart from [Diego] Godín, haven’t won anything.”
Godín may be on the brink of leaving the squad but the latest Nerazzurri addition is no stranger to a title or two. In fact, Arturo Vidal’s only issue when it comes to honours is finding room in his trophy cabinet.
After more than 12 months of links and rumoured courtship, Inter finally completed Vidal’s transfer for a reportedly nominal fee of €1m.
Vidal joins Inter after two seasons with Barcelona – possibly a step up on Sassuolo and Cagliari in Conte’s eyes – and can boast a staggering eight league titles across three different countries in the past nine seasons.
The first of these domestic successes came at Juventus under the same cantankerous manager he finds in Milan – and, incidentally, the same club director, Giuseppe Marotta, who spotted him at Bayer Leverkusen is also at Inter.
Vidal arrived at Conte’s Juventus in 2011 as Claudio Marchisio’s back-up but swiftly became a mainstay of the side. The Chile international – aptly known as ‘El Guerrero’ or ‘The Warrior’ – perfectly fit Conte’s maxim of ‘eat grass’. A less than literal phrase which characterises his insistency that everyone in the side works hard – much like he did as a player.
As one of three midfielders in Conte’s 3-5-2, Vidal covered the hard yards and bit into tackles but also offered a potent threat in the opposition box. During his three seasons with Conte at Juve, Vidal scored a ridiculous 28 goals across all competitions from midfield.
Six years on from their last game together as player and coach, the faded memories of Vidal and Conte’s days in Turin will come sharply back into focus.
Inter finished second behind Juve last season – the one point margin separating the sides flattered the Nerazzurri who were genuine contenders only until the turn of the year – playing Conte’s trusty 3-5-2.
Vidal may be at the ripe old age for a footballer of 33, but the Chilean was still remarkably active and effective at pressing and winning back the ball for Barcelona last season. He also mustered an impressive eight league goals in just 16 starts.
However, the fact that his proportion of minutes played dipped below 50% for the second time in the past three seasons, points towards the dwindling impact he will be able to have.
While Vidal hovers over the closing chapters of his career, Sandro Tonali has only just finished his introduction.
The highly rated 20-year-old midfielder had long been linked with a move from Brescia to Inter this summer but instead joined their bitter rivals AC Milan. While Tonali’s boyhood support of the red and black half of San Siro has widely been touted as the deciding factor, Inter seemingly had every opportunity to snap Tonali up.
As Brescia president Massimo Cellino told Italian TV channel Top Calcio 24 (via Sempre Inter): “Marotta was very keen, I know that Conte appreciated Tonali a lot, I think his agent also had contact with Inter. He [Tonali] was determined and convinced that he was going to Inter, then I don’t know, maybe there was no money available.”
The widespread suggestion is that Conte favoured Vidal directly over Tonali, although the pair of midfielders boast contrasting skillsets. While Vidal is incredibly adept at bulldozing his way into the opposition box, Tonali sits deeper and is more focussed on spraying the ball around.
After just a single debut season in Serie A – playing for a poor Brescia side who had barely any of the ball and conspired to finish 19th amid a whirlwind of managerial appointments – it’s impossible to definitively assess Tonali.
Having suffered his first trophy-less season as a club manager since 2011 – incidentally, the same year Inter last claimed some silverware – Conte is targeting immediate success. Vidal’s addition – whether that be at the expense of Tonali or not – only highlights the short-term aspect of his aspirations.
Now that he has been equipped with his trusty warrior, Conte has little reason to aim his ire at the powers that be and few excuses in his pursuit of that elusive Scudetto.