Milan (AFP) – Antonio Conte has justified his salary as the highest paid coach in Serie A by toppling his former club Juventus to end Inter Milan’s decade-long title drought after two seasons at the helm.
Eleven years after Jose Mourinho’s historic treble, Inter claimed the ‘Scudetto’ for a 19th time thanks to a fiery coach whose winning mentality was forged over many years at arch-rivals Juventus.
The title justifies Chinese-owned Inter’s decision two years ago to make Conte the star signing of the fallen northern giants with a reported annual salary of 12 million euros ($14.4 million) until 2022.
The 51-year-old fell short in his first campaign, finishing just one point behind Juventus, but this time their early European exit allowed Inter to focus on their first title since 2010.
“My pneumatic drill was loud and clear in the players’ minds,” said Conte of how he galvanised a team.
“First I train your head, then I train your legs,” he told the players.
“Every day, I tell them that team triumphs come before personal success. Winning is the only way to become great.
“We’ve really focused on the mental side of things over the last two years because it’s been a very long time since Inter have been competitive.
“Something has happened with the players. They now have complete trust in the person who’s leading them.”
– ‘A war zone’ –
It is a fifth league title for Conte who won three with Juventus between 2012 and 2014 and one with Chelsea in 2017.
“Training is a war zone,” said forward Romelu Lukaku, one of the stars in the Conte revolution.
“The coach doesn’t like it when you hold back.”
Italy defender Matteo Darmian praised Conte’s tactical prowess compared to his former managers Louis Van Gaal and Mourinho at Manchester United.
“Van Gaal was a rules freak. Mourinho has no other love than victory,” said Darmian.
“But Conte has the most ideas among them. Tactically he’s a gear forward.”
Conte rebuilt the ‘Nerazzurri’ on his arrival after two rollercoaster years under predecessor Luciano Spalletti who had brought Inter back to the Champions League.
Under Conte’s guidance players such as Lukaku, Nicolo Barella and Lautaro Martinez flourished while others like Christian Eriksen and Ivan Perisic after initial difficulties eventually adapted their style to Conte’s.
There have been tensions, with Conte threatening to leave last season over complaints that the club management had not backed him or the players.
Inter finished second in Serie A and lost the Europa League final to Sevilla last campaign.
– ‘Set the trend’ –
But despite two Champions League group stage exits, Conte seems to have found the winning combination.
A former midfielder from Lecce in the southern region of Puglia, Conte’s career has been driven by an obsession with winning, naming his daughter Vittoria.
Conte spent the bulk of his playing career at Juventus from 1991 to 2004, winning 13 trophies in as many years in Turin, including five Serie A titles and their last Champions League in 1996.
Since turning to coaching in 2006, his relentless obsession with winning has had a positive impact on most of the teams he has managed.
He took Bari and Siena into Serie A, began Juventus’ dominance of the Italian top-flight by winning three straight titles between 2012 and 2014, guided an unfancied Italy to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 and won the Premier League in his first season at Chelsea.
A perfectionist, Conte believes his side’s flourish because he simplifies the game.
“I am a coach who always gives a precise idea of football to his team. I seem to set the trend in tactics.
“My football has always been organised, we have an idea and work hard on a range of scenarios. But mentality makes the difference in getting out of tricky situations.”
However, he has not yet tasted European success as a coach, falling short with both Juventus and Chelsea before his near-miss with Inter in the Europa League.
A year remains on his contract but he has already hinted that he will need some guarantees and resources from the club “to try to reach the next milestone”.
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