Antonio Conte has had a strong start at Inter Milan after winning the first two matches with good overall performances that will make the fans happy. The team he has put together has also impressed pundits and fans alike, especially the signing of Romelu Lukaku and Diego Godin, as well as the loan signings of Nicolo Barella, Stefano Sensi and even Alexis Sanchez who has terribly declined in recent seasons.
There’s a lot of positives to look forward to this season, especially how the team will implement his unique playing style which is analysed here. However, Conte has a history of epic fallouts with the management and players of the clubs he has coached, and this is already a red flag. Especially for Inter, who just finished dealing with embattled striker Mauro Icardi.
What could go wrong for Conte with Inter, asides the obvious possibility of an imbroglio?
First, let’s look at the nature of the spats Conte has had in the past.
According to Alessandro Alciato, one of the most influential Italian sports journalists, Conte left the club with which he won three straight Scudetti due to altercations with the board over transfer issues, the same reason he left Bari whom he coached before landing the Juventus job, as reported by Calciomercato.
In his book, “Metodo Conte”, he is quoted thus:
“Conte wanted Cuadrado, but Juventus couldn’t afford to buy him from Fiorentina. On top of that, the club failed to ensure the permanence of Arturo Vidal and Pau Pogba at the stadium. Moreover, Conte did not agree with the club’s friendly summer tours. The former Juventus boss was also at loggerheads with the club’s director of communications, Claudio Albanese.”
This was also confirmed by the president of the Italian Football Federation from 2014-2017 after the appointment of Conte as coach of the senior national team, an interview also included in the book.
In summary, Conte’s strong personality didn’t sit well with the club and they had to part ways.
Sky Sports sources claim that the text Antonio Conte sent to Diego Costa concerning the striker’s exclusion from Conte’s plans as well as his alienation of several players which the club considered as key played a key role in his sacking.
The board also claimed that these decisions by Conte were not communicated to them, meaning that there was a complete breakdown in communication between both parties.
Chelsea believe Conte’s behaviour was in breach of the terms of his contract with the club, and they sacked him after two years at the helm, despite setting club records and winning two titles.
Conte also had very public disputes with the club over their transfer policy, despite Chelsea spending in excess of £255m in the period he was coach. He kept complaining that his squad is not strong enough to challenge on multiple fronts. In hindsight, Conte had a point, as currently, none of the players brought in during his stint are first-teamers bar Emerson Palmieri, Ross Barkley, and Olivier Giroud – just three out of 11 players acquired by Chelsea that season.
However, the fact that he kept undermining the board to the press was too much for them to bear. Again, his strong personality was his undoing.
It can be seen from both instances that the underlying factor behind Conte’s troubles with teams he has coached is their transfer policy. What Conte wants, Conte gets, and if he doesn’t get it, everything goes to blazes.
Inter have obviously taken note of this as all of the signings for the 2019/20 season have been Conte-approved. However, there is no telling what could happen in the future if Conte decides it’s time to strengthen the squad with new players.
POSSIBLE PROBLEMS WITH CONTE’S COACHING STYLE
Conte is an engineer, one who can greatly tweak a team to devastating effect, and his portfolio greatly attests to this statement.
In his first season with all his previous clubs, he either equalled or broke records for points amassed or consecutive victories. In Bari, his first season saw them end with 80 points, 25 more than the previous season, resulting in their promotion to Serie A. In Siena, the club recorded 77 points compared to 31 from the previous season and also secured promotion to the Serie A. At Juventus, the first of his three consecutive Scudetti was won with 84 points, 26 more than the previous season in which they came seventh. In Chelsea which is the most recent, he won the league in his first season with 93 points, 40 more than the previous season in which they ended up 10th.
His coaching style as regards Inter is not without its loopholes, however. The management of his left midfield/defensive role will be key to his achievements this campaign.
Kwadwo Asamoah is the only player who can cover that area properly, and this has been shown in his 3-5-2 set up. At Chelsea, he played 3-4-3 when the need arose but that was because he had options on the wings which he doesn’t have at Inter.
When defending with his 3-5-2 setup as analysed here, he changes to a 4-4-2 with Asamoah filling up the last slot in defence. In his favoured 3-4-3 at Chelsea, the defensive shape became 4-3-3 with Alonso slotting back into the left fullback role to fill up the defence. Though it worked perfectly in the first season, it became sort of an issue in the second to manage. The sustainability of this tactic depends only on Conte having enough players to play the Asamoah role, or if he can successfully convert 32-year old Antonio Candreva who seems to be his favoured option down the right, and Valentino Lazaro who can deputise for Candreva down that right flank into right-backs as well (just like he did with Victor Moses and Cesar Azpilicueta at Chelsea) to allow the defensive formation slip between a 5-3-2, with both wide players filling out the defence, and a 4-4-2, with Asamoah staying upfield due to his pace on the counter.
Conte also runs the risk of not getting the best out of Lukaku who operates best in a front three, as shown from his Belgium performances and his early days at Manchester United.
Lautaro Martinez is an excellent support striker who can also play as the main striker, but Lukaku thrives off the runs of the wide forwards and with Martinez sharing the middle with him, it could prove difficult for the big Belgian to really hit the ground running in Inter. Conte may need to consider a 3-4-3 to get the best from Lukaku.
Finally, the former Juventus and Italy midfielder is known to run his teams in a military fashion. There’s no shortage of disciplined players in Inter but if he does this, it may tell on their performance. 38 league matches, added to the stress of international break and European competitions is definitely going to affect the players physically. What Conte cannot afford to do is to drill the players even harder than they already are being drilled. Spending more time doing specific work and learning tactics will pay off better.
Juventus have a genuine threat on their hands now, with Inter now seriously breathing down their neck and looking even more threatening than Napoli are currently. There’s a lot to be inferred from Conte’s history in his first seasons with teams, but there’s also a lot to be sceptical about.
After all, it’s Antonio Conte we’re talking about here.