As a wise and fictional Ferris Bueller once said: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Normally, we’d advise whichever despairing fanbase (Inter, on this occasion) to watch that film and learn its valuable lessons. But this time round, we’d warn against settling down for a 103-minute classic comedy.
After all, they could miss another of their stars waving goodbye to San Siro.
Life was so rosey on 23 May 2021, when Inter smashed Udinese 5-1 to cap off a historic campaign. I Nerazzurri freed Italy from Juventus’ decade-long chokehold to become Serie A champions in some style.
Antonio Conte had assembled an awe-inspiring squad, packed with defensive warriors, canny midfield operators, world-class strikers – and of course, loads of wing-backs. 91 points, 89 goals scored and only 35 conceded told the story of a season to remember for Inter, and one they could only build upon.
It is at this point we usually explain that success is always temporary, and rather than focusing on the upcoming season, the best course of action is to pop open a bottle of your preferred tipple and bask in the momentary glory you’ve been awarded.
Poor Inter supporters had only three days to officially celebrate however, and even as the curtain fell on the 2020/21 campaign, concerning whispers began to echo around San Siro. For it was May 26 – three days after the season officially came to a close – that Conte walked away from Milano.
The Italian coach resigned – rather amicably, it must be said – following a meeting with club president Steven Zhang over the board’s plans for the summer transfer window. Viewers from the outside probably assumed this was prima donna Conte at his finest, backing down from a challenge to keep his record intact.
But less than three months later, the toxic atmosphere within the current Italian champions suggests he may have jumped ship at the right time. Unfortunately for football fans, we are not afforded the luxury of abandoning our beloved club at the first sign of danger, and Interisti have been tested to their limits this summer.
It was clear Conte had left for a reason. That reason being Zhang was in financial crisis, and the businessman simply couldn’t afford to keep plunging money into the club. It was time for cut-backs. It was initially reported that the president had informed Conte that they would need to generate around €80m in transfer sales, as well as slashing the wage bill by around 20%.
However, clearly the situation is far more dire than first feared. The summer began with the release of full-back Ashley Young, which in truth, is nothing to lose too much sleep over. The outgoings didn’t stop there, though.
Soon, wing-back Achraf Hakimi was being linked with a San Siro exit, and Paris Saint-Germain were ready to pounce. Sure enough, the French giants offered around €70m, and the Moroccan followed Conte out of the door.
That blow came after Hakimi himself had spoken about his desire to build a future at Inter, and how happy he was in Milan.
“I hope to stay at this club for a long time, I am happy here.” Hakimi stated back in April 2021. A bitter pill to swallow.
The killer dagger through the heart has only just pierced the skin, however. Romelu Lukaku, the man whose arrival changed the club’s fortunes, whose goals fired them to a league title and whose presence gave supporters belief in the good times, has left.
Less than two months ago, Lukaku tweeted how content he was at Inter, and as recently as July 23, he expressed his desire to make Inter dreams come true next season.
“I’m really happy to be back, we hope to continue the path we started, to keep winning. We, the players, will work hard to make your dreams come true,” Lukaku said on his return from Euro 2020 duty.
He’d learnt the language, won the hearts of a fanbase and finally experienced the joy of a major league title. This was a man who had found his home. Instead, Lukaku is now heading back to a former, rather unhappy home in Chelsea.
The Blues offered £97.5m (€115m) for the 28-year-old’s services, and that’s good money which Inter simply can’t refuse. Nerazzurri supporters have been quick to show their rage, vandalising a mural of Lukaku and unveiling banners in protest against president Zhang.
It’s safe to say, that despite the appointment of Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi, and the impending arrival of Edin Dzeko as Lukaku’s replacement, Inter are not in any fit state to defend their Italian crown, and fans have already lost all hope.
All supporters can do is look back on those three days of happiness, and play the blame game over how it all went so catastrophically wrong. Rightly, all fingers point to horrible mismanagement at the top.
Zhang himself will point to the global pandemic as the cause of Inter’s financial struggles, but the clubs bold transfer strategy has led them to this demise. There is no better example of their poor decision-making than the termination of Radja Nainggolan’s contract, which was announced on Tuesday.
Inter signed Nainggolan from Roma in the summer of 2018, and despite it being very apparent that the Giallorossi hierarchy were desperate to get rid of the Belgian, I Nerazzurri still forked out €24m. They also sent Davide Santon and Nicolo Zaniolo to Rome, leaving the overall value of the deal at around €38m.
While Santon has not pulled up any trees, Zaniolo has grown to become one of the most talked about starlets of Italian football, and had it not been for two heartbreaking knee injuries, he’d have made an even bigger impact on the world stage.
As for Nainggolan, he spent one unhappy season at San Siro, before being bombed out of the club’s plans by Conte, ending up on loan at Cagliari. Now, with one year remaining on his current deal, Inter have decided they simply can’t afford to keep paying his wages, and the pair have parted ways.
Another huge loss on and off the field for I Nerazzurri. With the new season around the corner, there is little to smile about for the current champions of Italy. And with rumours of bids arriving for star defender Stefan de Vrij and midfielder Marcelo Brozovic, it could still get worse.
You wait an entire decade to have something to cheer about, and that smile gets wiped off your face in less than 72 hours. Football, eh?