INTER MILAN’s dogged pursuit of Romelu Lukaku underlines the determination of the “nerazzuri” to try and break the Juventus stranglehold in Italy, an era of domination that includes eight consecutive Serie A titles, four Coppa Italia wins and two UEFA Champions League finals. Inter, the last Italian club to win the Champions League (2010), have not won a single piece of silverware since 2011 when they beat Palermo in the Coppa Italia final. Milan, indeed Italian football, needs clubs like Inter to become contenders once more.
Lukaku’s arrival is also a very positive signal for Italian football. He’s still only 26 and although his time at Manchester United petered out, not helped by the malaise at the club, he has plenty of mileage left in his career. He netted 42 goals in 96 games at Old Trafford.
The € 75 million deal is among the top five involving Italian clubs. It is also one of the summer window’s biggest transactions, a genuine confidence booster for Serie A, especially when paired with Juventus’ acquisition of Ajax’s Matthijs de Ligt.
Inter have had a busy summer, not least in hiring Antonio Conte as their head coach on a three-year contract to 2022. Conte, arguably the best coach in Italy, is a shrewd tactician and is able to switch between systems to suit the players at his disposal. At Chelsea, where he won the Premier and FA Cup, he favoured a 3-4-3 formation, while at Juventus, he used 3-5-2 to good effect.
Lukaku is not the only reason why people are taking Inter more seriously this season. Diego Godin has been signed from Atlético Madrid, costing € 20 million, a sizeable fee for a 33 year-old. More forward looking, Inter have added midfielder Nicolò Barella on a year’s loan (with a view to permanency) from Cagliari. Barella is just 22 and can play anywhere in midfield.
Conte arrived in Milan with the impasse between star striker Mauro Icardi and Inter in full swing. Icardi, who has been the club’s top scorer for five consecutive seasons, wants to move from the San Siro and Conte has said the Argentinian striker does not figure in his plans. The player, one of the best finishers in Europe, is in danger of being sidelined for the remainder of his contract if a club doesn’t come in for him. At present, Juventus are said to be interested.
Lukaku’s arrival and his contract (€ 9 million per season) suggests Inter are willing to invest, even though the club has a high level of debt. The Italian media have reported that after landing the robust Lukaku, Conte will push to get Edin Dzeko, who is valued at € 20 million by Roma. Apparently, Dzeko is keen to join Inter, but the price could be a deterrant.
Money and the gap between Juventus and the rest of Serie A underlines that Inter, and any other pretender to the throne, will have to outperform to wrestle the scudetto away from Turin. Inter, according to Forbes, are worth £ 536 million (versus Juve’s £ 1.2 billion), while Deloitte’s Football Money League reported that revenues at Inter in 2018 totalled € 281 million, some € 90 million less than Juventus. Inter are Italy’s best supported club by attendances, with last season’s average gate almost 59,000.
Conte’s arrival, the prospect of Champions League football for the second successive season along with the new signings mean enthusiasm is high among Inter fans. Season tickets for 2019-20 are sold out with a record renewal rate. The new coach has also made a good impression with his squad, largely because of the intensity of his training sessions. He has also shown that he can motivate players, especially those that looked set to leave the club, notably Borja Valero and Dalbert.
Inter have finished fourth in three of the last four seasons, but there is a sense of optimism around the club and the city of Milan. Italy certainly needs a more competitive Serie A and with Juve also going through change with Maurizio Sarri, the time may be right for a new champion. Massimo Carrera, who worked with Conte at Juventus and with the Azzuri, told the Spanish press: “Conte is a winner, just like Cristiano Ronaldo is at Juve. Inter are real title contenders this season.”