Football Features

Antonio Conte to Inter? Winners & losers of ex-Chelsea boss’ Serie A return

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:18, 23 May 2019 | Updated: 15:47, 14 September 2021

Antonio Conte is set to become the new Inter Milan manager.

He’s not officially been announced yet, but it’s a fairly open secret that the former Chelsea coach is going to be in the San Siro dugout next season. In fact, the Nerazzurri announced the sacking of Luciano Spalletti on Thursday, opening the door for his compatriot to take the reins.

Conte has been out of work all season following his departure from Chelsea last summer and this job would see him return to club management in Italy for the first time since 2014.

But who would benefit from Conte’s new job? And who would suffer as a result? We’ve had a look and come up with the winners and losers of Conte becoming Inter manager.

Winner: Milan Skriniar

When Conte instituted his 3-4-2-1 system at Chelsea, one of the most surprising things about it was that he placed David Luiz at the heart of the defence. The Brazilian had long been considered a liability, but under Conte blossomed into a reliable presence in defence.

Then when Conte fell out with David Luiz, he replaced him with Andreas Christensen. The young Dane had come back from a promising loan spell in the Bundesliga and was an instant revelation for Chelsea, playing with supreme confidence and solidity.

There’s also Antonio Rudiger who, alright he was pretty swell when he arrived, but didn’t face much in the way of adaptation issues. Gary Cahill was a stalwart for their title win. Hell, even César Azpilicueta became an impeccable central defender under Conte’s watch.

So if Conte was able to do all that with those players, just imagine what he can do with a defensive powerhouse like Milan Skriniar? The Slovakian is already one of the best defenders in the division, but playing in Conte’s 3-4-2-1 with the Italian’s rigorous coaching? We could be about to see the birth of the next true defensive titan – much like when Giorgio Chiellini emerged for Juventus under, oh yeah, that’s right: Antonio Conte!

Winner: Romelu Lukaku

Romelu Lukaku has had a strange time at Manchester United. Occasionally he’s looked every inch the thunderous and dynamic line-leading No. 9 the club has cried out for since Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie physically collapsed, but then sometimes he can’t even trap the ball and slows play down as though he were Ronaldinho – and he is not Ronaldinho.

Given Lukaku’s overall quality, however, United don’t want to let him rot and seem open to a sale. Enter Inter. Conte wanted to sign Lukaku for Chelsea back in 2017 only for Paul Pogba to convince the Belgian to join United instead. But now he may finally get his man. Inter have been persistently linked with a move for Lukaku and if it came off, there’s no doubt that the Belgian would explode in Conte’s direct system.

For added pleasure, Lukaku has spoken about how he has always dreamed of playing in Serie A as well.

“Playing in Serie A is a dream, it would be really a dream. I hope to be able to play sooner or later, even if at the moment I am focused on United.”

Romelu Lukaku on playing in Serie A

A move to Inter would make sense on a sporting level, a personal level and, you’d presume, a financial one too. Lukaku would get to be the head of a side that would churn out chances for him rather than asking him to play a role he can’t, as United do.

Loser: Mauro Icardi

Every winner needs a loser to balance them out and if Lukaku comes in then Mauro Icardi would surely be on the outs. The Argentine striker has always had a testy and volatile relationship with Inter, and notably their fans, but he always had the talent to bail himself out.

Now he’s become such a handful that nothing short of 50 goals a season would convince Interisti that he’s worth the trouble. So here’s Antonio Conte, a man who had a notably difficult time dealing with Diego Costa at Chelsea, and Icardi is an even more disruptive presence than Costa was. There’s no way Conte will want those headaches, especially as he’s targeting Lukaku as well, so expect Icardi to go.

But where would he go? There is no obvious choice in the market. The only top clubs desperate for a No. 9 are too smart to take on someone as disruptive as Icardi – that would be Barcelona and Real Madrid – and anyone below that level isn’t going to appeal to the Argentinian. He may have to drop down, perhaps even out of Europe entirely, to get the star status he craves.

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Winner: Newcastle United

Obviously, when a new manager comes in, there are going to be players that get booted out. Icardi is one such player but another is Joao Mario, the Portuguese international that Inter signed for an eye-watering €45m back in 2016, before Paris Saint-Germain made those kind of prices normal.

Joao Mario is a seriously talented player, able to move with the ball and create oodles of chances for team-mates. He’s often been lost in the shuffle at Inter, never really settling in to find his own place. But if he were sold to Newcastle as rumoured – for a miniscule £17m! – he could flourish in the North East of England.

Newcastle would benefit enormously from having a player like Joao Mario around to dovetail with Miguel Almiron and actually provide some creative spark to a side that is painfully short on it. Rafa Benitez is crying out for attacking game-changers to give his Newcastle side enough bite to survive, and Joao Mario could really let them sink their teeth into the Premier League.

Winner: Serie A

Juventus have won Serie A for eight years in a row. No side has ever won a top-five league that many times on the bounce. No, not even Bayern Munich. This kind of dominance is bad for Serie A’s ability to flourish and, indeed, with Juve’s habit of buying from within the league, it simply creates a vicious cycle where every half-worthy challenger loses their star player to the Old Lady before becoming a serious threat.

But imagine if Conte joins Inter? Suddenly the best coach in the division is at a club with the financial muscle to put together a squad and a manager who will not be cowed by Juve’s might and could convince his players to carry themselves with that same energy. Suddenly the best coach in the division is one that knows how to win things, in particular league titles. Too many challengers choke in the last gasps of the title race, not Conte though, his sides don’t do that.

Beating Juventus once, showing that they are mortal, could well be enough to inspire the rest of Serie A to rise up and effectively challenge over the subsequent years. It would open Serie A up, making it one of the most enthralling and absorbing sporting contests on planet earth once again.

Loser: Juventus

Conte was the man who started Juve’s recent title march, securing their first three Scudetti since gaining promotion back to Serie A. Now, with their squad weakening as key men get real old real fast, one can only imagine the delightful symmetry were Antonio Conte the man to end Juve’s stranglehold on Serie A.

And worse, to do it with Inter? Juve’s hated rivals, the other half of the Derby d’Italia and, according to Juve fans, chief architects of Juve’s misery during the Calciopoli trials? If that side stole Juve’s best manager this century – sorry Marcelo Lippi – and then with him in charge unseated the Bianconeri from their throne? That would be the ultimate humiliation for Juventus.