MILAN (AP) — It took Inter Milan 11 years to climb back to the top of Serie A. Now, it faces what could be a rapid descent.
The future looked bright in May when Antonio Conte led Inter to its first league title since 2010, but the club and the fans barely had a chance to bask in their renewed glory before it rapidly started unravelling.
Just three days after the last match of the season, Conte left Inter by mutual consent amid reports he was unhappy about the club’s decision to sell players in the upcoming transfer window because of financial constraints.
Inter’s finances were hit badly by the coronavirus pandemic, forcing the club to take out a large loan from an American investment fund and ensuring the Nerazzurri management would need to slash the wage bill and make a huge profit in the transfer market.
Achraf Hakimi was the first key player to go, moving to Paris Saint-Germain for 60 million euros ($70 million). But the fans’ worst fears were confirmed when star forward Romelu Lukaku was sold to Chelsea for a reported $135 million.
Lukaku, who netted 30 goals last campaign, was Inter’s top goalscorer in both his seasons at the club and formed a fantastic partnership with Lautaro Martínez — dubbed “LuLa” by Italian media.
Inter’s new-look strike force may earn the moniker “LaDz” after the Nerazzurri brought in 35-year-old Edin Džeko on a free transfer from Roma.
Inter has worked hard — and cheaply — in the transfer market with signings such as Hakan Çalhanoğlu and Denzel Dumfries. But the caliber of the players they have brought in is not the same as those who have left.
“Our targets are the same as always: to honor the shirt and challenge for trophies,” Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta said. “Inter’s history demands that: this is a club with a glorious, successful past.
“We also have a duty to honor the title shield we wear on our shirts. We have a big season ahead.”
In Conte’s replacement, however, Inter has an impressive young coach who knows how to get the best of his players.
Simone Inzaghi won the Italian Cup and two Italian Super Cups in five seasons in charge of Lazio, where he also showed similar grit and determination as his predecessor at Inter.
“I’m here to build on the last two years, which culminated in the title,” Inzaghi said. “We must be consistent and credible if we want to achieve the targets we’ve set ourselves.
“I want intensity — a team that’s always completely focused. Strong teams react when things don’t go their way. My teams have always played with intensity right down to the last minute.”
It has been an offseason of change at other top Serie A clubs, too. Not least Juventus, which is still reeling after ending the season empty-handed for the first time since 2011. It finished fourth and at times looked in danger of missing out on a Champions League spot in a troubled season for the Bianconeri.
That prompted the dismissal of Andrea Pirlo and the rehiring of Massimiliano Allegri, just two years after he was fired as Juventus coach.
Allegri won five straight Serie A titles with Juventus, including four league and cup doubles, and also reached two Champions League finals. The reappointment of the 54-year-old is one of the principal reasons Juventus starts the season as favorite to win back its title.
But former coach Fabio Capello believes Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammates need to knuckle down and not attribute any failings to their third coach in three years.
“Juventus start in pole position after the players Inter have sold,” Capello said. “The expectations are all on Allegri and I say it dispassionately: it will not be easy to repeat the successes of the previous stint.
“Max must show strength and a decisive punch. I don’t want to see the players taking his return as an alibi to discharge responsibility.”
AC Milan and Atalanta finished second and third, respectively, last season and are again likely to provide some stiff opposition.
And eyes will of course be on the Italian capital. Maurizio Sarri has replaced Inzaghi at Lazio but the focus will be on the Roma dugout and José Mourinho’s return to Italian soccer.
Mourinho memorably led Inter Milan to a treble of titles little more than a decade ago during his only previous job in Italy.
“It will be the championship of the coaches,” Capello said. “We have a full house: Mourinho, Allegri, (Luciano) Spalletti, Sarri.”