Hal Walker looks at the pressure Antonio Conte faces at Inter Milan.
No one can say Antonio Conte has slipped back into Italian football discreetly.
Last weekend the Italian sports media reported that the 50-year old had received a threatening letter in the post that also contained a bullet. Whilst Inter and Conte’s wife have since confirmed that it was not sent to their family home but in fact to the club directly, such an incident feels a distressing episode to a hitherto fever pitch first three months in the Nerazzuri job for the former national team coach.
On the pitch, in Inter’s last league fixture, he could certainly breathe a sigh of relief at the final whistle after Nicolo Barella’s curling effort seven minutes from time saw his Inter Milan side come back from a goal behind to beat Verona 2-1 and return to the top of Serie A for the evening.
The three points was minimum expectancy for Conte, the identity of the goal-scorer not so much. The former Cagliari midfielder was one of multiple subjects in an extraordinary irate rant just four days previous following Inter’s Champions League three-goal concession to Borussia Dortmund after marching into a dominant first half 2-0 lead.
The target of his post-match soliloquy was plain for all to see and hear: the Inter boardroom. Conte’s assertion that the summer transfer window investment – or lack of – was key in explaining their collapse in the second period at Signal Iduna Park. More specifically, the squad depth not containing the requisite depth to maintain the intensity he himself demands for the full 90 minute duration.
Having then being complimented by none other than Fabio Capello in the Sky Italia television studio for his meticulous tactical planning from the outset of the game, Conte simply retorted, as if to prove his point: “That’s why I’m so pissed off, Mister”.
Taking Conte’s gripes into account, frankly it is hard to sympathise, not least considering that the club twice broke their transfer record in the summer – for Nicolo Barella (€49m) and Romelu Lukaku (€75m), added to experienced, high-profile loan arrivals on considerable wages in Diego Godin and Alexis Sanchez – making for fairly lavish business that the club may not have pursued had another manager been at the helm.
Whilst the schedule facing Inter is no doubt gruelling – the defeat to Dortmund was their sixth of seven games played in a 21-day period – it feels strange that Conte decided to deride the club’s decision to sign players from smaller clubs in Serie A like Sassuolo (Stefano Sensi) and Cagliari (Nicolo Barella), particularly since both have played a starring role in their impressive start to the season that renders them a point off league leaders Juventus.
The fact that Conte personally sanctioned summer sales of key players in Mauro Icardi and Ivan Perisic to Champions League rivals PSG and Bayern Munich, over doubts concerning attitude (Icardi) and positional versatility (Perisic), only adds to the irrational nature of belittling the club level that Inter were targeting for young talent.
The fact that, in his first year at both Chelsea and Juventus, he reaped the benefits of no European football by winning their respective domestic titles with some conviction certainly supports the theory that Conte is concerned that playing schedule will get the better of the Inter squad.
Nonetheless, the club’s hierarchy are entitled to expect the highest paid manager in Italy would adapt his tactics and rotate his squad accordingly to remain engaged on multiple fronts.
And yet despite all of this, for all the notions of a potentially detrimental friction at the club between coach and hierarchy, if Inter can trump Juventus’ result this weekend (the latter visit Atalanta while the Nerazzuri travel to Torino) then Conte and his side will find themselves top of the Serie A, ideally positioned ahead of the festive fixture pileup.
Follow Hal on Twitter @HalWalker