Milan (AFP) – Antonio Conte parted company with Inter Milan on Wednesday just days after lifting their first Serie A title in 11 years amid clashes with the club’s cash-strapped Chinese owners on the way forward.
The ambitious Italian refused Suning’s planned cost cutting which would have prevented him building the team he wanted to challenge at home and in Europe.
The former Chelsea and Juventus boss took over in May 2019 on a three-year contract worth a reported 12 million euros ($14 million) annually.
But the 51-year-old leaves the San Siro one year early, Inter confirming “an agreement has been reached with Antonio Conte for the termination of his contract by mutual consent”.
“Antonio Conte will forever remain a part of our club’s history,” the statement added.
Severing Conte’s contract has cost the club a reported seven million euros ($8.5 million), while his final year’s salary would have been around 12 million.
As part of the deal Conte will not be allowed to coach another Serie A club next season, according to reports.
Among the names being touted to replace him are Lazio boss Simone Inzaghi and former Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri, who has also been linked with a return to the Turin club.
For Conte, future destinations could include Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid.
A demanding coach, whose training sessions were described by Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku as ‘like a war zone,’ Conte leaves Inter at the summit of Serie A, a feat last achieved by Jose Mourinho, who won the treble with the club in 2010.
It was a fifth league title for Conte having won three with Juventus between 2012 and 2014 and the Premier League with Chelsea in 2018.
But tensions had been ongoing, having already threatened to leave last summer after losing the Europa League final to Sevilla and finishing second in the league to Juventus.
Despite a second Champions League group stage exit this season Inter clinched their 19th Scudetto with a 12-point lead on AC Milan and with four games remaining.
“This is one of the most important successes of my career,” Conte said.
“Deciding to join Inter was not easy, just when the team was not equipped to win immediately.
“Furthermore, the opponent was Juventus for whom I had worked for a long time. Today we can say that our sacrifices have paid off.”
Conte rebuilt the ‘Nerazzurri,’ getting the best out of players including former Manchester United star Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez and Nicolo Barella, while others like Christian Eriksen and Ivan Perisic overcame initial difficulties to adapt to Conte’s style.
“He’s the best manager in the world,” said Lukaku, who was Inter’s top scorer the last two seasons.
“Between him and me, there is a very strong relationship. I want a coach like this, who helps me every day and gives me motivation.”
– Financial woes –
But the question remains whether these players will be in the team next season.
Inter registered losses of 100 million euros ($122 million) last season mainly due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Suning Group shut down their Chinese club Jiangsu FC in February months after winning the Chinese Super League title.
Five days ago, Inter secured a cash injection worth 275 million euros with US investment firm Oaktree, in the form of a loan reported to be over three years.
In this context, Suning wants to save as much as possible both on the purchase of new players and salaries, and possibly selling those with the highest value, an approach unacceptable for Conte.
Another early exit has become a familiar story for Conte who rarely hangs around for the long haul.
His three-year spell at Juventus was the longest of a career already spanning seven clubs, and the Italian national team.
However, Conte has had a positive impact on most of the teams he has managed.
He took Bari and Siena into Serie A, began Juventus’ nine-year domination of the Italian top-flight, guided an unfancied Italy to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 and won the Premier League in his first season at Chelsea.
But he has never tasted European success, falling short with both Juventus and Chelsea before his near-miss with Inter.
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