Inter will prioritise Antonio Conte or Diego Simeone after Stefano Pioli departure - but they must learn patience
Inter’s plan is obvious and the timing of its execution is hardly coincidental. They made their move, sacking coach Stefano Pioli after a run of five defeats in six games. The only match they didn’t lose in that time was the derby, against Milan, when two goals in the last ten minutes cost them three vital points.
The end came after Sunday’s 1-0 defeat away at lowly Genoa, courtesy of a goal from their former striker Goran Pandev. Recent results have been utterly unacceptable by Inter’s standards, which are of a club desperate to return to the glories of yesteryear. For the Nerazzurri, of course, they were as recent as seven years ago when they won the first treble in Italian football history under Jose Mourinho.
Every man who has stepped into the dugout after Mourinho has been judged on the level he performed at. That is hardly surprising or unique of the clubs the Portuguese left after bringing them unprecedented success. But seeing Inter sitting eighth in the Serie A is no longer a shock because everyone who takes charge is expected to jump to a bar set in a unique era for the club.
Most clubs would sack a coach after such a poor run, but Pioli has only been in charge since November, following on from Frank de Boer’s ill-fated 85-day reign. Aided by perspective, it is easy to see why the decision can be viewed as harsh.
Perhaps the hierarchy won’t admit it, but that decision could be construed as calculated. In the same week they parted with Pioli, big developments occurred for both of their reported prime managerial candidates.
Antonio Conte, who won three Serie A titles with Juventus before taking charge of Italy and then Chelsea, became just one win away from debut-season Premier League success. Diego Simeone, the mastermind behind Atletico Madrid’s rise since 2011 and former Inter midfielder, saw his side knocked out of the Champions League by city rivals Real Madrid for the fourth year running.
From both a positive and negative standpoint, are Inter making a statement? Maybe. To Conte, if he feels he has proven himself abroad and would like to return home, or to Simeone, who many believe has peaked in Madrid and could use a new challenge to freshen up his career.
Speculation won’t die down about the fact that Inter know who they want and there is no smoke without fire. If it is a straight choice between Conte and Simeone, then there would have to be one clear favourite – the man who has already accepted the job.
In December, when his son Giovanni, who plays in Italy for Genoa, said that he [Diego] would one day coach in the country again following a brief stint with Catania, Simeone’s comments were damning.
“He’s my son, so obviously I talk to him. (My family) all know perfectly well that one day I’ll coach Inter. It isn’t news, or anything new.”
It would appear that the time is now for the Argentine to return to the San Siro. He has reached the pinnacle as a coach in Spain, building his side in his image and making them better after the poison of Gregorio Manzano’s reign at the Vicente Calderon. Dogged, determined and obsessed with winning even if it meant bending the rules, Atletico have risen from obscurity to compete with and better the elite, but the intensity he instils could become too much, as signs are showing this season.
Conte has done something incredibly similar at Stamford Bridge, albeit in under a year. Chelsea were a club, like Inter, who could not escape Mourinho’s shadow. Two league titles, two FA Cups and two League Cups put him on a pedestal, and it took the failure of his second spell, which still included another title and League Cup success, for the club to move on.
Since the Italian arrived, he has turned the club on its head. Not only is he on the brink of a title and FA Cup double, but he has the team playing in his unique style and image.
Both Simeone and Conte are exactly what Inter want, and in a way, what they need; someone to finally dispel the ghost of Mourinho and get them back on track to the top. There is little doubt that both men are of a higher calibre than a lot of Inter’s recent coaches, but the job of waking this sleeping giant is much bigger than the board give it credit for.
Whether one of those in between Mourinho and now could have done it is a question without an answer, but some big names have not been given a fair crack of the whip.
Rafael Benitez stepped into the job directly after the success of 2010 and lasted just six months, Roberto Mancini, who laid the foundations for Mourinho by winning two Scudettos between 2006 and 2008, had his second spell cut short last August, just days before the season started, and Frank de Boer, the winner of five Eredivisie titles in six years with Ajax, was barely given time to warm his seat in the dugout despite having a mess to clean up himself.
Even Pioli was stepping into the job having guided Lazio into third just two years ago, and he looked to have found a formula at the turn of the year, going on a nine-match unbeaten run.
It is clear to see what Inter believe should happen this summer. Stefano Vecchi will most likely take charge until the end of the season and then the pursuit of Conte and Simeone will begin. Both have previous experience of taking big clubs to the next level, the same level Mourinho left Inter on, but others in recent history did too.
A world-class coach should breed a world-class team, but Inter must give whoever comes in more time to work than they did Benitez, Mancini, de Boer and Pioli. If they don’t, there won’t be many other directions in which they can go.