Inter Milan and Juventus don’t really get along well, to use an euphemism. When Antonio Conte joined the former after playing 13 years for their rivals, five of which as team captain, many fans were not happy. Additionally, Conte coached Juventus for a further three years full of success.
However, most of the Inter fanbase knew that the team was welcoming a serial winner. Conte was brought in to ensure Inter returned to where they belonged, which is challenging for titles and being a strong European side.
The win of the 2020/21 Serie A is all in his name, but the coach from Lecce didn’t quite live a flawless experience during his two seasons. Finally though, the Scudetto returned to the black and blue side of Milan for the first time in 11 years.
Conte was unfairly criticised in the first year for living a trophyless season. He had won with Juventus straight away, having done the same for Chelsea. People expected him to have a magic wand and suddenly beat a Juventus side that was heading for its ninth consecutive league title. It’s fair to say that Conte’s own astonishing achievements in the past generated this criticism. Practically, his success was his downfall.
In truth, Conte’s first season for Inter was way more than positive. Inter finished 2nd in the table, only a point shy of Juventus. The year before, the Nerazzurri had finished 21 points adrift, only qualifying for Champions League football with 10 minutes left of the last game of the season, as Radja Nainggolan scored the winner in a tight game against Empoli.
Some people probably don’t realise the huge steps Inter made, leading the Serie A for many weeks up until Matchday 23.
Conte was also knocked out of the Coppa Italia semi-finals and finished third in a Champions League group consisting of Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund. Inter went into the Europa League, dominating Ludogorets, Getafe, Bayer Leverkusen, Shakhtar Donetsk and playing their first European final in 10 years.Embed from Getty Images
Again, to put it into context. The furthest Inter went in any European competition after winning the treble in 2010 was the Champions League quarter-finals in 2010/11.
They never made it past the Rounds of 16 in either competition after that. In his first year, Conte overturned this, only coming short due to an unfortunate own-goal scored by Romelu Lukaku, which gifted a 3-2 win to Sevilla.
It wasn’t easy either to take the lead of a club like Inter Milan. After Jose Mourinho’s success, many people of the likes of Rafa Benitez, Claudio Ranieri, Roberto Mancini and Luciano Spalletti all tried but failed to get noteworthy results.
Fans criticised Conte and accused him of not being enough of an Interista. He didn’t have the Inter DNA within him. He was too much attached to the Juventus colours to win with Inter.
At one point, the team was underperforming. Inter were actually given as favourites to win the league ahead of Juventus, but after seven games the team only got 12 points, lost its first derby in almost five years and was on its way out of the Champions League, this time to a desolate last place.Embed from Getty Images
However, it’s at that point that Conte emerged. He brought the players together and made them believe the Scudetto was still possible. Of course, 31 games is an eternity, it’s just that they had to get things right.
Most people wrongly accused Inter of taking the advantage of being knocked out from the Champions League to being able to put more focus towards the title. In reality, Juventus only played three more games this season, whilst Milan played only two, so there is no evidence this led to a gap of as much as 13 points forming.
Conte’s underrated career
Conte’s persona is often underrated, probably due to the lack of success in European Competitions. However, he was the one who started the Juventus cycle of nine straight Scudettos and, funnily enough, he was the one to end it.Embed from Getty Images
Conte picked up Juventus and gave them their first title in nine years, the first one since suffering the humiliation of Serie B football. Additionally, he didn’t really do it with the best team. Juventus finished ahead of reigning champions AC Milan, who played in the era of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
He won the title enjoying an unbeaten season playing with Mirko Vucinic and Alessandro Matri upfront, plus Emanuele Giaccherini and Simone Pepe on the wing.
He picked up Chelsea in 2016/17 after the Blues just finished 10th the previous season and won the title by starting Victor Moses after the Nigerian was sent on loan three times in three seasons by Jose Mourinho.
He coached the Italian National team only to come short against World Champions Germany on penalties in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals. Once more, he did so by starting Eder, Stefano Sturaro, Marco Parolo, Mattia de Sciglio, Graziano Pelle and Emanuele Giaccherini.
Conte is a master, somebody who can get the maximum out of the group of players he has. He knows how to create a group that only focuses on a common aim and fights together for victories.
The second part of this Inter season was the reflection of that. There was unity, people were giving their all for each other, culminated by hugs after goals and once the game was over.
Lukaku and Martinez: Conte won his bet
Conte transformed Romelu Lukaku from a “target man with no ball control” to one of the best strikers in Europe. It’s no surprise Man City are after the Belgian and Chelsea want him back.
In 33 Serie A games, Lukaku scored 21 times, but most importantly got nine assists. It’s a number that reveals how much of a team player he has become. Conte has loved Lukaku and Lukaku has loved Conte since day one.
The Italian coach puts trust in Lautaro Martinez, after the Argentian had only started 13 Serie A games the previous season under Spalletti. Martinez became the perfect partner for Lukaku.
He played in every game this season and scored 15 goals, all non-penalties and got eight assists to his name. It’s a complete partnership that can be useful even when they don’t score.
Antonio Conte’s career as a coach in the top five leagues sees five league titles in seven years when he completed the season. As we saw before, this hardly ever happened with the best team.
Most people also forgot he won the Serie B with Bari in his first full season with the club, also being promoted a couple of years later with Siena at his first attempt. Overall, in his full seasons he was promoted twice, won five league titles, once finished second and once fifth. A seven out of nine perfect score ratio.
After just five full seasons in the Serie A, only four coaches had won more league titles than him. Giovanni Trapattoni, an all-time great, won seven in 22 years. It’s not impossible for Conte to become one of the greatest considering he is only 51 years old.
He is already on the way. Conte is the best-ever Serie A coach for points average, with 2,26. That reflects to 86 points per season.
Is Conte a winner? Of course he is.
Does this success solely belong to him? Of course not, but his leadership led to an Inter side as unite as ever.
Inter fans may see details of the one coached by Mourinho in 2010 for how much players were willing to sacrifice. Conte won his personal battles. He transformed Ivan Perisic into an efficient wing-back.
The unfairly criticised Matteo Darmian became a hero. Christian Eriksen was already with a foot and a half out of Milan but finally became a regular starter after a year of disappointment.
This is why, Inter’s success is also the success of Antonio Conte.
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