Sport has an affinity for the four-year cycle.
After yesterday’s shock exit from the Champions League group stages and not even being able to finish in third for a Europa League spot, serious questions need to be asked about the Nerazzuri and the direction they wish to go in.
It’s not surprising, though, not one bit.
Why? Because the signs were right in front of us for all to see.
The biggest problem for Inter is definitely manager Antonio Conte. The Chinese ownership have bent over backwards for him to make the signings on his wish list possible, while also giving him more authority to make key decisions within the club.
Way back in 2011 when Conte took over the reigns at Juventus, he was able to implement a successful 3-5-2 formation with a very solid backline being the core of the team that helped lead them to three consecutive Serie A titles and built a new dynasty at the Turin club. Conte’s passion, grit and determination was captured by his players who wanted to play for a manager who’s known for his crazy celebrations on the touchline.
However, there were flaws that came with his management style that should’ve been picked up by Inter before hiring him.
In the Champions League, he was found out by top clubs with the 3-5-2 set-up because the wingbacks would be constantly exposed down the flanks.
Why? Because in today’s modern game, there are many top wingers that usually have a lot of pace and flair which would destroy Conte’s philosophy and style of play at the top European stage.
He was able to make it work in the domestic league and have success as Juventus would find ways to grind out results and find consistency against some lesser opponents and teams that they were always familiar with.
In his two seasons with The Old Lady in the Champions League, he guided them to one quarter-final berth and was knocked out of the group stage in the following campaign.
This would continue at Chelsea where Conte underperformed in Europe, being bundled out in the last 16. This was despite leading the Blues to a Premier League title the season before, after the London club finished tenth the season before he arrived, with the same tactics and formation plugged in.
Even with Inter last season, he finished third in the group stage and so questions grew larger as to why Conte can be so dominant domestically but struggle so much in European football.
Conte’s Champions League record speaks for itself. In 31 games, he has only managed 10 victories. That is an embarrassment for a manager with such high expectations and one who’s considered by many as one of the top tacticians in Europe.
Stubbornness is another big reason why the Italian tactician has failed to deliver in the Champions League. His obsession with this 3-5-2 gets to the point where, if the game is begging for changes, he simply won’t budge as it’s either his way or the high way.
Not having a plan B, C or even D is catastrophic because it demonstrates that although he believes in his ideas, he doesn’t want to be proven wrong and will stick to his first thoughts which is asking for trouble.
Last week against Bologna, Inter were cruising to a comfortable 3-1 win when he decided to humiliate former Tottenham star Christian Eriksen but putting him on at the end of the match in additional time. What a way to humiliate a player and get your point across that the player isn’t to your liking. Again, though, he doesn’t want to be proven wrong because of this stubbornness.
The clash with Shakhtar Donetsk was a great opportunity to introduce the Dane earlier on because the game was calling out for some creativity and someone who has the ability to play good passes in behind and split defences. Not for Conte, though… he subbed Eriksen on in the 85th minute.
Also, Conte has a history of not getting along well with the board of the clubs he recently managed. In Turin he walked out in 2014 because his transfer demands were not being met.
In 2018, Chelsea sacked the Italian as the relationship within the club collapsed due to more demands by Conte not being taken onboard, as well as experiencing a fallout with his own players, most noticeably when he informed Diego Costa he was surplus to requirements for the following campaign – via text message – almost immediately after claiming the Premier League title.
After all of this evidence, what exactly were Inter expecting?
Last year, it was Inter’s turn to experience a relationship breakdown between Conte and the board. Yes, you guessed it, his demands weren’t being met in the transfer market. The owners managed to negotiate with him and kept him on despite all of this, though.
Then there’s Beppe Marotta, former Juventus director who was appointed to take change in the same position at Internazionale. This means that the same ideas and transfer strategies will be taken on at Inter, which history tells us does not help, but rather will diminish their chances of one day winning the Champions League again.
It is clear that Inter Milan wanted to replicate the success that Conte had at Juve and try everything in their power to make it a similar experience to that of Juventus. Now that Inter are officially out of Europe, they have no excuses to use if they do not end up winning the Scudetto, with no travel required and no extra games in midweek, unlike some of their title challengers.
It will be very difficult to sack the manager because of his huge contract, and Inter already find themselves in a tight financial position due to Financial Fair Play.
Conte relied on old players with experience at Juventus, Chelsea and even the Italian national team at Euro 2016.
He relied on a short-term project and wasn’t interested in the long-term objective one bit at the three teams mentioned in this piece.
Inter learnt that the hard way in the summer transfer window when Conte passed up the opportunity to sign up-and-coming Italian midfielder Sandro Tonali (20), dubbed the next Andrea Pirlo, instead losing him to city rivals AC Milan and signing veteran Arturo Vidal (33) instead.
The signs were so clear, yet it’s like Inter were blindsided.
It is time for them to form their own blueprint.