Inter supporters must have been tearing their hair out only two years ago, wondering how the club would replace nightmare talisman Mauro Icardi’s endless supply of goals.
Those fears look pretty silly now, eh? Little did they know, they were sitting on a gold mine in the form of 2018 summer signing Lautaro ‘El Toro’ Martinez, while the owners would then splash a whopping €80m on Belgian hitman Romelu Lukaku.
Coupled with the arrival of serial winner Antonio Conte, Inter have rocketed to win their first Serie A title in over a decade, with their newly-formed strike partnership hitting 76 goals since the start of the 2019/20 campaign.
And so, having finally achieved the unthinkable after knocking Juventus off their decade-long perch, wicked whispers are suggesting that this new era of dominance is set to end before it’s even started. Nearly every club in world football is dying for a top striker, and it just so happens that Inter have two.
Voices hinting at a Martinez departure have grown even louder in recent days, after it was revealed that his agent has met with representatives from both Real and Atletico Madrid over a possible summer transfer.
And news that Nerazzurri chairman Steven Zhang has been forced to take out a €275m loan to keep his ownership alive has rocked supporters further. If the businessman is unable to pay it back, he risks losing control of the club altogether – and that would hold grave consequences all round.
So, Inter may not be in a position to drive a hard bargain then, as Europe’s giants begin to circle over their 23-year-old Argentine. There is one small flaw in the ‘Inter desperately need the money so will sell Martinez’ argument, though.
If rumours of owner Zhang’s financial issues are to believed, and the severity of this crisis is not exaggerated, then selling Martinez would create nothing more than a drop in an ocean of debt and irreparable damage.
From a Nerazzurri standpoint, it’d make much more sense to gut the club of its ageing, high earners and strip the bloated squad down to the bare bones, rather than sell their prized asset – who also remains a relatively low earner on the wage bill.
That would be entirely possible too, with the likes of Arturo Vidal, Matias Vecino and Radja Nainggolan all eating into the budget. This way, they can go on winning titles, potentially put together a decent run in the Champions League, and attract another investor who is willing to buy into a club on the rise.
Of course, football is not all about money – not to us, anyway.
From a footballing point of view, are there that many better destinations in Europe than Inter at this current time?
Barcelona and Real Madrid are far from the peak of their powers, Paris Saint-Germain are not in a position to be spending millions while trying to tie Kylian Mbappe down to a new contract, and leaving the Italian champions for another club in Serie A would simply be madness.
That leaves Atletico Madrid, who already possess one high-earning South American striker, Bayern, who boast a man that has just broken the record for the most goals in a single Bundesliga season, and the Premier League.
It’s hard to argue that the Premier League is not a tempting prospect, and the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool could all offer gigantic wages compared to his current salary, as well as the possibility of winning silverware.
But if you were a betting man, who would you stick your house on to dominate the next five to 10 years of English football? Liverpool were Premier League champions only one year ago, and now risk missing out on Europe’s elite competition. Man City are currently the best team in the top-flight, but have become so without needing a recognised striker.
And Man Utd…well, you just never know, do you? It would be wiser to wait and see how the next 12 months of transfer activity plays out in England, and place your stakes on the right horse when all is a bit clearer.
Anyway, the grass is not always greener on the other side – just ask teammate Romelu Lukaku. He’s living the dream in Italy, finally winning trophies and scoring bags of goals at a club where he is now worshipped.
The Belgian forward is a big factor behind Martinez’s success too, and the pair have linked up superbly to provide each other with goals over the past 24 months. Lukaku has proven he can do it without Martinez, but can Martinez even do it without Lukaku? That could be a factor in some clubs’ minds.
In the end, there is no real harm in sticking around at Inter for one more season. There is so much left to achieve: defend the title, win the Coppa Italia, have a crack at the Champions League. These are all possible too, with Conte still at the helm of this tightly-knit core of players.
Martinez will undoubtedly be a better player in 12 months time, and if the moment arrives where Inter need to sell him or he feels like it’s time to leave, there could be an even longer queue of more financially secure clubs just waiting snap him up – including a dream move to Barcelona.
Take your time Lautaro, and get this one right.