As the man who built Juventus up into Italian football’s dominant force, Inter saw Antonio Conte as the only man who could bring them down. Their appointment of the former Bianconeri boss in the summer of 2019 was an ambitious one that has since paid dividends, with a new order established at the top of Serie A this season.
While Inter have some financial issues, they now boast a core that should keep them competitive for titles and honours for years to come. In Alessandro Bastoni, Nicolo Barella, Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, Conte has set in place a stronger spine than anything seen at the San Siro since the days of Jose Mourinho over a decade ago.
The remarkable job Conte has done in turning around Inter and putting them back at the top of the Italian game underlines his standing as one of the finest managers of his generation. Many point to Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp as the best in the world right now, and with good reason. But Conte also deserves to be in that discussion.
Having won league titles at his last three clubs, the 51-year-old is fast becoming European football’s go-to guy for instant success. It took Conte two seasons to turn Inter into champions, but his impact at the club was immediate as the Nerazzurri pushed Juventus all the way to the final day of the 2019/20 campaign.
Conte might not profess the free-flowing, attacking play that Guardiola and Klopp do, but his brand of football is still very dynamic. It relies on high intensity in the wide areas an in attack. Lukaku and Martinez have certainly brought that in the latter area, forging the best strike partnership in the game over the last two seasons.
Players fight for Conte in a way that is rare in the modern game. In this sense, that is a Mourinho-esque quality to the 51-year-old. His football isn’t too far removed from what the Portuguese coach advocates either, although Mourinho hasn’t been able to replicate the sort of exhilarating counter attack commonly produced by Conte’s Inter for years.
If Conte has a flaw, it’s that he can sometimes be too demanding. He flamed out at Chelsea amid tensions over transfers, with the Italian coach unhappy at the signings made for him. There has been tension between Conte and the Inter board too, leading to suggestions he could leave this summer if transfer funds are not available.
Inter won’t find a better manager than Conte to lead them. After years of drifting, he has given the San Siro outfit purpose again. Assuming financial troubles don’t hit too hard, Inter are well-placed to dominate Italian football for years to come. They have a group of players still to hit their peak while Juventus are tasked with dismantling an ageing squad and rebuilding.
Having only ever made it as far as the quarter-finals of the Champions League, Conte has yet to truly make his mark on the continental game. This is surely his next objective. This is where he can take Inter to the next level and where he can further embolden his own reputation as Italy’s current highest calibre manager - better than Carlo Ancelotti, Max Allegri, Maurizio Sarri and all other coaches from the country.
Whether or not Conte stays to build on his legacy at Inter, he has already established himself as one of the very best. At Juventus and Chelsea, he was a winner, but it’s at Inter where Conte has demonstrated his brilliance most clearly. This team, and all he has built at the club, is his managerial masterpiece.
Top 10 managers of the last 10 years:
1. Pep Guardiola
2. Diego Simeone
3. Jurgen Klopp
4. Antonio Conte
5. Carlo Ancelotti
6. Zinedine Zidane
7. Jose Mourinho
8. Luis Enrique
9. Jupp Heynckes
10. Max Allegri
Quiz: Can you name the missing player from these famous line-ups?