Inter’s unexpected 2-1 loss at Spezia, the eighth of their Serie A season, has cast further doubts on Simone Inzaghi‘s future, as the odds of him keeping the Nerazzurri job for a third year seem strongly dependent on the outcome of their Champions League tie against Porto.
But regardless of what happens when the two sides meet for the second leg of their last-16 tie, the second meeting in three weeks between Inzaghi and Porto‘s Sergio Conceicao could also bring with it a symbolic meaning as, rather ironically, the skills the Portuguese coach has been showing at the Estadio do Dragao seem to perfectly align with what Inter would need to leave behind their woes in the last two seasons.
Months of eye-catching football during his first campaign at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza were not enough to overshadow the deficiencies that have ended up jeopardising a title push for two consecutive seasons now.
Plagued by inconsistency, the Nerazzurri have been showing the same old flaws with appalling regularity, such as their inability to capitalise on the chances they create and their lack of focus against opponents that are kinder on paper, something that a club with title ambitions can’t really afford.
On the other side, in spite of having not yet earned a call from a top European team, Conceicao‘s credentials have been proven in recent seasons, and he might well be the man Inter should turn to next.
Conceicao’s proven credentials
When he first joined the Estadio do Dragao outfit back in 2017, Conceicao was presented with the cumbersome task of steering Porto back to a period of success after a four-year trophy drought. He didn’t shy away from the burden of responsibility, turning the pressure into fuel for his team, as he always does.
In his first season at the helm, Conceicao won the first of the three Primeira Liga titles he would lift during his stint, but the most impressive part lies in the way the coach was able to drive his side to success.
Conceicao’s Porto never lost more than four games in a domestic campaign and, except for the 2020/21 season, the former Braga and Nantes coach has always won more than 70% of the league games. In total, he has added nine titles since becoming Porto boss.
Such results should be considered even more impressive when looking at the context Conceicao has been working in. Like every other Portuguese club, Porto regularly see their finest gems lured by the top European teams and are forced to sell some of them each season for the sake of the balance sheet, making it complicated to build a team where chemistry between the players becomes an added value in the long run.
What makes Conceicao a good fit for Inter?
The above-mentioned state of affairs isn’t dissimilar to the circumstances in which Inter have been operating in recent seasons, with their financial constraints making it all the more important to not make wrong investments. In this respect, there’s no better profile than a coach that knows how to work with limited resources, without using them as an excuse.
Conceicao’s ability to adapt his football to the personnel at his disposal without ever being detrimental to the overall level is arguably his most intriguing trait as a manager and one that Inter should carefully look at. He can also be similar to Antonio Conte in the way he keeps all his players on their toes, preventing them from losing their focus when things may look easier.
With Serie A’s increased competitiveness for the top spots making consistency increasingly important to succeed, a profile like the current Porto boss could help Inter finally move on from those up and downs which have been holding them back.
As well, Conceicao boasts an attractive tactical identity that mixes various elements and makes him an extremely versatile and modern coach – his sides can either press high up the pitch to win the ball back or simply block their opponents’ preferred passing lanes to disrupt the build-up according to the circumstances, but such focus on the off-the-ball structure doesn’t mean they don’t feel at ease when in possession.
Porto’s build-up is also excellent and aimed at making the ball progress in the smoothest possible way, in order to give forwards quality chances, easier to capitalise on. And above everything, the reigning Portuguese champions have always boasted one of the best defences in the country, keeping an impressive number of clean sheets every season, yet another trait that is typical of Serie A-winning teams.
If Simone Inzaghi is really to part ways with Inter at the end of the season, with Conceicao’s contract expiring in June 2024 the Nerazzurri should look no further and find a way to bring him to the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza – his salary could be still affordable now for a club like Inter, but that may not be the case if they drag their feet and miss their chance before he is given a chance at another club in one of Europe’s top-five leagues.