Milan (AFP) – Inter Milan coach Stefano Pioli has dismissed reports the club are actively seeking his successor but admits a return to the Champions League next year could be a step too far.
Pioli, who replaced sacked Dutchman Frank De Boer last November, awoke Friday to unconfirmed reports claiming Inter’s Chinese owners Suning had offered Chelsea manager Antonio Conte a tax-free salary of 15 million euros ($15.8m) a season to return to Italy.
But former Lazio handler Pioli said: “You journalists are phenomenal. You speak and write about other coaches, then you ask me how I’m doing!
“I’m calm, as always.”
Suning are desperate to see Inter — Italy’s last winners of the Champions League, in 2010 — return to the Europe’s premier club competition for the first time since 2012.
Yet the Nerazzurri, 18 points behind leaders Juventus in the race for the ‘scudetto’, are six points behind Napoli in the third and last Champions League spot following an emphatic 3-1 defeat to Roma last time out.
Pioli, who signed an 18-month deal on November 8, risks frustrating the club’s hierarchy after claiming he needs more time, work from the players as well as the right players for the job if he is to fulfil his brief.
Pioli said: “To move into the top three we need time and work, because our rivals have been at the summit for years.”
Since Inter’s last top-three finish — a runner-up place behind city rivals AC Milan in 2011 — Juventus have won the title five years in succession while Roma and Napoli have finished runners-up twice each as well as finishing third once each.
He added: “They have had long-term projects going on for quite a while. We have to get the right players to try and plug the gap, which really isn’t that big.
“Obviously, we’re still lacking something but we’re on the right road. You can’t change everything in a few months.”
Since Pioli replaced De Boer Inter have suffered only three defeats, to Napoli, Juventus and Roma.
Despite Argentinian striker Mauro Icardi buoying fans on Thursday by telling Gazzetta dello Sport, “we can finish third”, Pioli remains cautious about their chances.
“I couldn’t say,” said Pioli. “Because it doesn’t just depend on us. All we can do is focus on winning, which is something we’ve always managed to do.
“But this hasn’t been enough, now we have to win a lot. Now, our focus is on Cagliari, where it won’t be easy to win.”