Another player will likely be joining Europe’s managerial merry-go-round this summer. Alongside Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, and, by all accounts, Paris Saint-Germain, will probably be Inter. After two fluctuating seasons, the decline witnessed at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza over the last few weeks will be seen as the death knell for Simone Inzagh’s tenure.
Not all blame can be laid at Inzaghi’s door. Inter’s squad now bare the brunt of a club recently managed by Antonio Conte (ageing and restricted to playing a set system), and of an ownership unable to invest.
As news circulates of new candidates, and the potential to return to one of Conte or Jose Mourinho, the slide shows little sign of arrest.
Why would Inter look at Conte and Mourinho?
One can hardly blame Inter fans for clamouring for Conte or Mourinho. Both have a reserved place in the club’s recent history, and in the case of the former would likely have been in charge for longer had financial shortcomings not made his position untenable.
Enough time has passed since Mourinho’s departure for Real Madrid too, over a decade ago, for the romance of his return to cloud judgement. Let alone the impressive rebuilding he has undertaken at AS Roma over the last 24 months.
Recent years have seen the modern game turn an unfavourable eye to both Conte and Mourinho’s styles. Not only their models of favouring the pragmatic, back-foot rearguard, but also their tough and aloof approach to player management. The response to Conte’s departure from Spurs proves how this hard-line attitude rubbed players and fans alike the wrong way in England.
However, Inter ae desperately lacking intensity and have become too passive both in and out of possession. The appeal of a coach who promotes physical fitness, and structures play to follow strict automatisms and patterns, can be understood.
Keeping the past, in the past
Inter’s squad retains the hallmarks of a Conte side. Track almost any club he has worked at, and note the rise in average age across his tenure, and the same applies to the Nerazzurri. Conte works in the present, bringing quick improvement and success, but ultimately leaces the squad in a physically and mentally weaker point than when he arrived.
Similar points can be made about Mourinho, too. The Portuguese is renowned for favouring experienced older players, who can speak different languages and become mainstays in his side. See Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Nemanja Matic for perfect examples of this.
The physical decline experienced at Inter this season could arguably be deemed beyond the immediate improvements of either coach. Whilst the experience and nous already exists within the squad, it remains to be seen whether any could be revitalised by another punishing spell under Conte. Even the players deemed ‘younger’ in the squad, such as Nicolo Barella (26), Alessandro Bastoni (23) and Federico Dimarco (25) are already far into their twenties.
The usual upsides of hiring Antonio Conte or Jose Mourinho are a peak in physical fitness. Inter’s ageing squad might already be too old for that effect to manifest.
Stuck in a rut
The other factor in Conte’s appeal is that the squad has now experienced back-to-back coaches who favour a three-man defence.
Look around Europe’s top leagues, and you now see a shortage of three-at-the-back systems among the very best sides. Especially when it is used as a constant in the way that Conte and Inzaghi do.
The issue is that such a system requires very specific role players. Wing-backs are usually recruited at great expense, and possess a final-third threat that few traditional full-backs can offer. See Robin Gosens and Denzel Dumfries, for example. However, should a new coach wish to revert to a back four, can this profile of aggressive wing-back be utilised without the protection of wider centre-backs? In the case of the two named above, it is unlikely and further investment in these areas would be required.
Both Inzaghi and Conte prefer have used a two-man forward line, too. Understandable given: a) the strength and concentration of firepower into Lautaro Martinez and one of Romelu Lukaku or Edin Dzeko, and, b) the benefits of playing a three-midfield. The result is that Inter now possess no natural wingers. Not one single winger, with even Joaquin Correa operating best as central striker.
Whoever arrives next to take on this squad, with little hope of investment arriving soon, would likely have to also use a pair of strikers, and continue without any wide threat. Inter are in a three-man defensive rut, and will struggle to get out of it.
Finding a piece that fits
The personnel issues listed above relating to being so integral to a three-man defence could lean into Inter’s pursuit of Conte. Mourinho has also used a back three at Roma, and other rumoured names such as Mauricio Pochettino and Gian Piero Gasperini have used the same system.
It becomes problematic when a coach is being picked entirely to match the players in the squad. Doing so fails to promote accountability within the playing group, and the longer it goes on the harder it becomes to shake off and move to a different model. Players such as Dumfries and Gosens would likely be sold, and whilst they would generate income, would have to be immediately replaced with either more traditional full-backs, or wingers to fill the squad’s other gaping hole.
Couple that with the looming departures of Lukaku, Marcelo Brozovic and Milan Skriniar, and the alarming lack of squad depth, and the Inter mantle starts to appear problematic and undesirable.
Whilst either of Conte or Mourinho could well spark a short-term boost to the feeling around Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, the long-term effects of bringing either back could set Inter even further back.