“Antonio Conte is getting that look in his eye! He motions to the crowd! Is it that time?! Are we gonna see it?! YES! Here it comes! No one has ever kicked out of it! It’s the CONTE TAIL LIGHTS!”
That’s how it would sound if Antonio Conte were a wrestler (and that would be awesome, though he hasn’t been above bleeding and threatening murder on the sideline. So really, how far away is he?) Conte certainly has a set pattern. He revitalizes a club to the heights of a league championship. They tend to snuff it in European competition. Then he starts fighting with the board about transfers. And just like that (poof), he’s gone.
He did it at Juventus. He did it at Chelsea. And now he’s done it at Inter Milan. Just days after the Serie A season concluded with Inter lifting the Scudetto, and only after two years in charge, Conte packed up his office and hit the road (along with a €7 million payout for his troubles).
Conte is definitely an irascible sort, and he can wear on his players quickly when his winning results no longer balance out the stress of playing for him. He burns hot and bright and then out quickly. His shelf life would be if he could resist picking fights with his bosses wouldn’t be all that long anyway. But this time, it’s not about Conte’s fiery methods. Or at least, not all about it.
While Inter are basking in the glow of their title, there’s been storm clouds on the horizon for a while. Inter is majority owned by Chinese retail giant Suning, and the parent company is in some trouble. The pandemic hit their main stream of business hard, and they’ve been attempting to shed any other interests in response. They folded their Chinese League team just weeks after they had won that title (this is becoming a theme).
The board at Inter had informed Conte that they wanted the wage bill trimmed, and some players sold, with the aim being somewhere in the neighborhood of €100 million combined savings. There were already rumors that they would consider, even actively pursue, selling talisman Romelu Lukaku back to the Premier League if Chelsea or Man City were so inclined. That alone could be €60 million or €70 million ($84 million-$98 million) back to Inter’s accounts. Leo Messi has had the hots for Lautaro Martinez to join him at Barcelona, which could also be on the cards. Defender Milan Skriniar is another who has been whispered to be available if anyone wants to stump up the cash. It’s clear that Inter’s spine is going to look different next year, if not completely torn out to satisfy the higher-ups and the debt collectors. Conte clearly had a beef with it.
Perhaps it’s a sign of the club’s ambition that Conte’s replacement is Simone Inzaghi. Inzaghi has been at Lazio for five years, where they’ve only finished in the Champions League places once. Mostly they’ve just hung around seventh or eighth. He’s hardly one of the more prized, up-and-coming managers around (though you can’t deny the handsomeness), even if Inter’s main goal was to save money. It feels like a pretty unambitious hire aimed at the decidedly apathetic midtable life that the club might strip its roster to.
Where Conte goes will become of great interest. He would seem far too big of a name and far too big of a personality/asshole to replace Ronald Koeman at Barca if the latter is dismissed. He could try and wait out Zinedine Zidane at Madrid, but that’s dicey. Perhaps a return to Juventus is the best bet after Andrea Pirlo steered them right into the rocks in his first season in charge. But Juve have already taken this ride once, and their ambitions are about the Champions League which doesn’t really jibe with a manager who is known for face-planting in that competition.
The real hope is that he returns to England with Tottenham just to see how long he can last before he’s chasing chairman Daniel Levy around North London with a tire iron. Levy loves to chase a name, as we’ve seen with Jose Mourinho, but that didn’t go particularly well. And Spurs aren’t likely to have the funds for transfers that Conte is always chasing. Doesn’t mean we can’t root for it, though.