The season has yet to start and Simone Inzaghi is already facing complex challenges at the helm of Inter, writes Richard Hall.
Italian media outlets lavished praise on Inzaghi over the way he is conducting himself so far, adding that he has a solid plan for the Nerazzurri’s title defence and their long-term future. The summer has not been easy for Inter. However, early signs show that he will use a very familiar system while looking to the youth system to bolster their ranks. Could this prove to be a winning combination that allows long term planning? Inter may need this as it seems Romelu Lukaku could be leaving the club.
Inzaghi certainly comes to Milan with a good reputation. His Coppa Italia and two Super Cups in the capital were a good return, especially as they were won using an attacking style and a high press. The system set up by Antonio Conte certainly meant that the former Lazio coach was the go-to person when the former coach resigned.
The early pre-season games can’t offer too much information on any future form, especially when they are against the likes of Sarnico, Lugano, Pro Vercelli, Pergolettese and Crotone. However, it is worth pointing out that Inter scored an impressive 36 goals in these games and seemed just as attacking as ever. The saying that you can only beat what is in front of you stands fast here, but the early signs are good.
Admittedly, the players on holiday after the Euros certainly forced Inzaghi’s hand re-squad selection, but it was still interesting to see how he looked to some of the youngsters and that they paid him back with some exciting performances. Martin Satriano and Lucien Agoume particularly looked impressive, with the Uruguayan forward scoring nine times in pre-season. The much sought after youngster demonstrated that whilst he is thought of as more of a No. 10, his finishing is lethal and it has been suggested he may get a chance in the first team this campaign.
This is what many Inter fans will be hoping for, and not just against Sarnico. For too long, the Nerazzurri have overlooked their Primavera and Nicolò Zaniolo is only one unfortunate case study. Even moving up the chain, fringe players like Andrea Pinamonti may also get more minutes unless he moves to Empoli on loan. Inzaghi used this process at Lazio when he looked to the Primavera players on regular occasions. He had worked with them before he took on the main role as coach and there is now a hope that he will supplement Inter’s squad by turning to a valuable resource.
This will work with Suning’s plans as the owners are looking for a long-term sustainable model. Not a view shared by Conte, who made it clear he wanted players for now and not for the future. He wanted experienced heads like Arturo Vidal, who may have added something on the dressing room if not always on the pitch. Inzaghi has also been endearing himself to the current first-team squad, personally phoning each member of the squad, talking to them about his plans for the team and individuals.
However, he may see the most important player of the team leave and according to reports in Italy, the coach is clearly not happy about it. At the time of writing, Chelsea are serious about Lukaku and reports from the Italian and British media talk of a rebuffed bid in the region of €100m. Inter had made it clear they need to end the window with approximately €80-100m profit and lower the wage bill by 15-20%. Players such and Dalbert, amongst others, have been loaned out and others like Joao Mario have left the club, but more needs to be done. This is why Inzaghi’s focus on youth is crucial.
It is reported Chelsea will return with a bid of around €120-130m and that if this happens, Inter will let the Belgian decide his own fate. Whilst he seemed happy at Inter, the considerable extra wages, the chance to join an ambitious project, and the fact that he knows he could help Inter’s financial woes may twist his arm. It seems his return to Stamford Bridge is getting ever closer, but stranger things can always happen, especially on the market.
If he does leave, then Inzaghi will have to reinvest some of the money into the playing personal, but it will likely be cheaper players with less wage expectancy. Duvan Zapata and Joaquin Correra are the first names mentioned by Italian media as possible replacements for the 28-year-old. This will potentially hamper Inter’s title defence, but they have the right man at the helm to control this when everything is taken into perspective. The only negative is how they manage the situation internally, as the departure of Lukaku could see others turn their heads.
The new era under Inzaghi has not started in earnest, but the early signs are good. The coach seems to be building a strong rapport with the team, he is engaging the youth squad and he is continuing with the system that Conte had put in place. There are still many hurdles for Inter in the coming months and one feels like the squad could look very different come two weeks’ time if some major bids come in.
Inzaghi certainly offers much and if things do get difficult for Inter economically, then the coach is adapt to working with what he has got. If the squad remains as it is, then he will certainly be tasked with defending Inter’s title and there is no doubt he will want to do this playing an attractive brand of football, with or without Lukaku.