FootballSerie A

From captain to casualty: Icardi’s time is up at Inter as Conte rings the changes

June 5, 2019

DESPITE finishing fourth and securing Champions League football for the second year in a row, Inter knew it was time for a change. Thanking Luciano Spalletti for the pair of fourth-placed finishes he accomplished, they quickly announced that Antonio Conte would be replacing him, an appointment that speaks volumes about the direction they now hope to go in.

While Spalletti secured the most basic of targets, his tenure was littered with in-fighting and public outbursts from players as well as a general feeling of underachievement. With the squad at his disposal, there is no doubt that the Tuscan Coach should have been able to finish closer to the eventual champions, ending 2017/18 23 points behind Juventus.

This most recent campaign saw that gap remains at 21 points, while as recently as February they were comfortable in third place and with a legitimate chance of catching eventual runners up Napoli. Yet they slumped and only just clung onto fourth, narrowly holding off city cousins AC Milan for that vital Champions League berth.

Spalletti has now paid the ultimate price, and we can be certain that Conte – who will not permit anyone who plays for him to give anything less than 100% commitment – will provide a stark contrast. That is something Emanuele Giaccherini explained in a recent interview with the Corriere dello Sport, the former Juve and Italy midfielder looking back on their time together to call the new boss’ training sessions “shocking.”

He revealed that the effort demanded often left him wanting to “collapse on to a couch,” finally summing up the experience by admitting that “Conte bleeds you dry.” There is plenty of evidence to support such a claim, and in truth that is exactly what Inter have previously lacked; a Coach who can galvanise the squad and push them to deliver their very best on a consistent basis.

Other managers with a similar mentality have won trophies at Inter and become club legends, the names of Jose Mourinho and Giovanni Trapattoni held in the highest possible esteem by Nerazzurri supporters. Yet before Conte can hope to join them, he needs to deal with the man who played a major role in them squandering that strong league position in 2018/19, a man whose actions threatened to derail their entire season.

He needs to deal with Mauro Icardi.

So much has been said and written about the Argentina international that it is almost impossible to do so without turning this column into a referendum on his personal life. But that is entirely self-inflicted by the striker, his decision to allow his wife Wanda Nara to become his agent continually causing problems for both him and Inter.

It was Nara who forced Spalletti to strip him of the Captaincy, using her role as a regular guest on an TV show to air Icardi’s grievances with the club. Asked if he was attempting to secure a new contract back in February, she told the host that he didn’t need an extra €5 million per season and that he would rather have “five decent balls into the box” per game instead.

La Gazzetta dello Sport followed that up with a report that Icardi was shunned by his team-mates and “eating practically alone” at the training ground, while the Corriere della Sera alleged that Ivan Perisic said "tell your wife to stop talking about me on TV!” That led to Spalletti giving the armband to Samir Handanovic and excluding the striker from the squad for almost two months, a situation that caused an irreparable rift within the team.

It is impossible to imagine that scenario playing out under Conte’s stewardship, and it is equally implausible that he will be willing to tolerate even the slightest chance of a repeat next term. “I think now it’s very difficult to talk about this,” was the only comment the Coach would make at his inaugural press conference, hardly a ringing endorsement of Icardi and one that seems to indicate his time in Milan is coming to an end.

There are strong indications that Inter have already set their sights on potential replacements, Sport Mediaset reporting that they already have an agreement in place with Romelu Lukaku and are now negotiating with Manchester United over a potential deal for the Belgian star. Meanwhile, Gianluca Di Marzio believes the Nerazzurri are also close to securing Edin Dzeko of AS Roma, a player Conte wanted to take to Stamford Bridge and who is seemingly available for around €12 million.

Both Dzeko and Lukaku suit the new boss’ approach far better than Icardi, his preference to play up front alone a bad fit for a Coach who is almost certain to use the 3-5-2 formation that has long been his calling card. The rest of the side can slot into that framework with relative ease, meaning an exit for the no.9 surely cannot be too far away.

He should have no shortage of suitors, a record of 111 goals in 188 Serie A appearances for Inter underlining the very obvious quality of a striker who is still only 26 years old. Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Chelsea have all been mentioned as possible destinations, with a price tag of around €70 million being widely quoted.

The histrionics caused off the field have led to this, but if any of those teams can get him to focus and deliver on the pitch, there is no doubt he remains one of the deadliest finishers in the game today, a player capable of scoring goals in even the most difficult circumstances.

Mauro Icardi is a top class striker, he’s just not someone Antonio Conte will tolerate.