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FEATURE | Is Antonio Conte still the right man to take Inter forward?

To recollect when Inter Milan last won a trophy, Nerazzurri fans need to go back to May 29, 2011. Inter defeated Palermo 3-1 in the final of the Coppa Italia and the season prior they won a treble under manager, Jose Mourinho. They were accustomed to winning and competing with the best clubs, such as Juventus, AC Milan and Napoli.  

However, the past decade hasn’t been kind to Inter, who haven’t seen a piece of silverware since their date with Palermo. The club had a perplexing timeline that started from May of 2015, when they were sanctioned by FIFA for not complying with Financial Fair Play Regulations. 

Inter were penalized the following four seasons, and this created difficultly as they were less active in the transfer market windows. Inter altered by spending less, obtaining younger players and developing through their Primavera squad. They no longer had the flexibility to be heavy spenders on high profile players, and had to field a team within their constraints and league rules.   

While FFP was holding Inter back from being active and acquiring players, they also went through changes in ownership in 2016. Zhang Jindong, co-founder and chairman of Suning Commerce Group purchased the majority of Erick Thohir’s stake. He had acquired the club when they lacked a vision, didn’t have much solidity, and had taken a loss in profit in his first year with the club.  

Two seasons later, Steven Zhang was selected as the new chairman of the club by Jindong in October 2018. The club has seen a massive overhaul in the past few years, but the biggest decision made under new ownership has been the hiring of Antonio Conte. The Italian arrived with hefty price tag, as he earns 12 million euros per season, and is the highest paid manager in Serie A.  

Prior to Conte’s arrival, twelve different managers were hired since 2010, with Robert Mancini and Luciano Spalletti being the longest serving with two years each. During that span of time, Spalletti has been their most successful manager, as he ended a six-year drought and guided Inter back to the Champions League.  

 

Antonio Conte’s arrival 

When Inter decided to sign Conte, they were bringing in manager who was well-known and established, and has a history of winning throughout his career. He coached the National Italian squad, in addition to winning three Scudetti with Juventus, and a Premier League Title and the FA Cup with Chelsea FC. His past history speaks for itself that he understands and knows how to win.  

He has brought a new philosophy to the team that has been vain in the past ten years. Entering his second season with the club, the verdict is still out on Conte. With no trophies and a team that faced challengesInter’s fate was placed in the hands of Conte in hopes that he could lead the club back to winning. Was Conte the right choice 

Last season, Inter made the final of the Europa League and lost to Sevilla, finished second in Serie A behind Juventus by one point and made it to the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia to be ousted by Napoli. He left empty handed in his first year, and his status for a second season was in doubt. After lengthy discussions with Zhang, the club decided to keep Conte as manager.   

In his second season with Inter, his club is currently sitting in fifth place in Serie A and trails first place team AC Milan by five points. Additionally, Inter are last in the group stage of the Champions League and trail first place team Mönchengladbach by six points. First place is no longer a possibility and they have a thin chance of catching second place Real Madrid, who lead them by fix points. Europa League could be in doubt if they fail to win their remaining two matches.   

Second season blues 

In recent time, Inter’s form hasn’t been great, as they’ve won twice in their last ten matches in all competitions. Some of the blame could be placed on Conte, who has shown stubbornness and did not elect to change up his formation to accommodate certain players would be more suited to a different. Christian Eriksen has looked out of sync in the 3-5-2, while Milan Škriniar has yet to adjust in a back three as he’s been accustomed to a back four.  

Lautaro Martínez is far from the player he was last year, as his form has been poor this season. The rumours of him going to Barcelona last season could be a part of the issue, yet a player of his elite status should be producing more in the absence of Romelu Lukaku. Although he has scored six goals in all competitions, he has been inconsistent far too often. Conte has struggled to get the best out of one of his best players this season.  

Due to Conte’s intense training, this could cause players to be tired and result in injuries. The night before matches, it’s been said that the Italian coach rarely sleeps, as his mind is solely focused on tactics and what he plans to execute. Because of this, his training sessions could be a partial cause as to why his players haven’t performed at high level in their matches.  

The Inter manager has shown a tendency to have his emotions get in the way as last season, far too often he had an excuse for his losses and never took accountability. This year that hasn’t been the case in his press conferences, however, he hasn’t shied away on the sideline and continues to express his frustration to the referees.  

Conte has also shown a great upside in his time as manager at Inter. Nicolò Barella joined Inter from Cagliari last season and he has flourished under Conte. The Italian manager has been able to get the young midfielder’s game to a higher level. He has been their best midfielder this year where he’s been decisive, shown a good read for the game and intuitive in his passing. 

One player who has benefited the most under the Italian manager has been Romelu Lukaku. Prior to joining Inter, the Belgian was at Manchester United, where he was in and out of the lineup. Although in the Premier League he had finished with fifteen goals in all competitions, he went through long stretches where he didn’t see any game time.  

Conte has always wanted Lukaku since his time at Chelsea and for good reason, as he’s thrived under his 3-5-2 formation. He has shown a great work ethic, is clinical and his hold up play has been tremendous. He has been their most potent player, having scored 34 goals in all competitions last season. This year, Lukaku has scored seven goals in all competitions and has continued where he left off from last year. He has returned to the player he once was with Man United as Conte has been able to get the best out of him.  

Young centre back Alessandro Bastoni has also elevated his game and has shown to be a good fit in Conte’s three-man backline. He has shown great passing, good positioning and awareness without the ball.  

Should Inter stick with Conte?

Inter have been hit by injuries and illnesses, which has made it hard for Conte at times this year. Their match against AC Milan had several players out due to Covid-19, which was a partial reason to their loss. Firing Conte would be a mistake because the season is still young and that would leave Inter to pay off Spalletti and Conte. Even if his side have an uphill battle in the Champions League, the main goal from the beginning had been winning the Scudetto and should remain that.  

Make no mistake, the management did a good job of buying veteran players such as Arturo Vidal and bringing young talented Achraf Hakimi from Dortmund to provide the needed depth to compete.  

Conte has shown impatience at times; however, his mindset is clear in terms of what this team needs. A club which hasn’t won silverware for some time can no longer wait as it’s been too long. There aren’t many managers of his caliber left on the market and if they are, many will prefer to start on a clean slate when they arrive. So, the best option is to stick with a man such as Conte rather than following down Fiorentina’s path – who continue to bring in well-established managers to try to turn things around.  

Jerry Mancini

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