Antonio Conte has broken all ties with Inter Milan – and now his short San Siro reign could be at an end after just a year.
The former Chelsea manager is in a war of nerves with Inter president Steven Zhang and he wants to win at all costs. Conte has two years left on his contract – worth £10.8million a year – and Inter cannot afford to fire him.
After his scathing criticism of the club – where he called his bosses ‘weak’ and said they offered him and his players ‘no protection’ – the question is whether their fractured relationship can carry on.
Zhang backed Conte heavily in the market to bring him reinforcements, splashing around £162m on the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Christian Eriksen.
So why is the relationship between Conte and his Inter bosses so fractious? And what has happened to make the Italian and Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta fall out so spectacularly? Here are five key issues that are causing tension in the San Siro split.
Antonio Conte (left) is at war with Inter Milan, and he will go out to win at all costs against club president Steven Zhang (right)
SPIES AT INTER
‘I read a 2017 interview by [Luciano] Spalletti: he declared bad things that happened,’ Conte has said of Inter’s dressing room. ‘Today we are in 2020 and things are not changing.’
During one of his last press conferences at Inter, former boss Spalletti criticised the environment of the club and the presence of some spies in the dressing room who reported to journalists the scandals and the inner quarrels between the players.
Conte has always demanded privacy for all internal matters – it is part of his mantra – and at Inter he has never been satisfied by the protection afforded to the dressing room.
Immediately after the draw with Slavia Prague in the Champions League as far back as last September there was a dispute between Lukaku and his team-mates – which was immediately reported by the Italian media, leaving Conte furious.
There are many who have taken offence to Conte’s fury, and Zhang would have been left strongly irritated by the mention of the quote from former coach Spalletti, who he fired 12 months ago before hiring Conte.
Conte has been angered by leaks within the club, with a number of stories emerging
Italian reporters learnt of a dressing room bust up following the draw with Slavia Prague
AN ABSENT PRESIDENT
Conte is very angry about the absence of Zhang in Milan. Having had his quarrels with Roman Abramovich’s team at Chelsea, Conte has always asked for greater closeness from the Chinese businessman who has returned to China for the last 90 days.
Conte would have liked more calls and commitment but that has not arrived. After the Europa League campaign ends the two will hold a meeting and the fractured relationship between Conte and Zhang is an issue that must be resolved – but don’t hold your breath.
The Chinese leadership represents a great political and economic weight in the East and West and Conte’s words have been judged to be detrimental to the public image of the Suning Family.
Zhang thinks he has always satisfied Conte with every market request – Lukaku, Victor Moses, Diego Godin and Ashley Young were all Conte requests – and is very angry with his hostility.
President Zhang is in China, to the frustration of Conte, who wants him to be closer to the club
PROBLEMS WITH MAROTTA AS ALLEGRI LOOMS
Conte has never had a great diplomatic relationship with Marotta. The pair fought when they worked together at Juventus for the failure to buy Juan Cuadrado and their relationship has worsened in Milan.
Conte would not have taken kindly to the rumours about Inter’s possible interest in Max Allegri, who – unlike the Inter boss – has a very strong friendship with Marotta.
Conte resents Marotta for not putting a stop to those rumours following a downturn in form in Serie A, and is seeking an apology which does not look forthcoming.
Relations between the two men are at an all-time low, even non-existent, and after Conte’s fury the pair will probably only be in each other’s presence during the meeting with Zhang at the end of the season.
Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta and Conte have endured an icy relationship to date
Conte was unhappy with rumours linking Max Allegri to the Inter post during a poor run
THE CASE OF CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN
The problems between Conte and Marotta hit a new low after the £17.5m signing of Christian Eriksen in January.
Conte was not keen on the former Tottenham man – but he was a key target for Marotta.
The Danish midfielder continues to disappoint and Conte’s 3-5-2 system has suffered as a result of his lacklustre displays.
Eriksen has not settled in Italian football, with the style of play far more defensive and tactical than he was accustomed to in the Premier League.
Even in a 3-4-1-2, Eriksen looks a fish out of water, and with his highly-publicised arrival and wage of roughly £9m a year, he will fast become an unbearable burden for the club.
According to Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport, the Danish midfielder is already beginning to doubt his future in Italy.
He still maintains the full support of the dressing room, however, but should his poor performances continue his arrival will look like a gamble gone terribly wrong.
Marotta was eager to sign midfielder Christian Eriksen, while Conte was against his signing
Conte has a huge problem to solve with Eriksen playing poorly despite the big-money signing
NO PROTECTION IN THE BROZOVIC SAGA
Conte would have wanted more protection from the club and Marotta with regards to the Marcelo Brozovic saga.
The Croatia international has endured problems away from the pitch, having rowed with nurses at a Milan hospital last week – when the military were called to calm him down – as well as being pulled over by police for running a red traffic light in the middle of the night.
Conte has viewed these incidents as a threat to the serenity of the dressing room, and has been angered by the lack of response from the club’s hierarchy with regard to Brozovic’s antics.
A stickler for a focus on the work at hand, Conte demands professionalism and a serious attitude from his players and wants the support of those above him at the most critical moments of the season.
Brozovic is now on the market and Inter no longer wants to tolerate the problems of a player who appears to be in great mental pain at this moment in time.
But the damage the saga surrounding him has done to Conte’s relationships remains – and the manager’s future is now uncertain.
Conte has been angered by the lack of protection from club chiefs regarding Marcelo Brozovic
The Croatian has had off-field problems which Conte feels may have upset the dressing room