Ranking all 16 of Antonio Conte’s signings as Inter Milan manager
To those who say you should quit while you’re ahead, Antonio Conte was certainly listening.
Less than 48 hours after picking up the Serie A trophy with Inter Milan, Conte – having already dedicated the Scudetto to…himself – was out the door, looking for a new challenge after the club told him €80million worth of players needed to be sold this summer.
Over his two years at San Siro, he transformed Inter from also-rans into title winners for the first time in over a decade, cantering to the Scudetto this season, 12 points ahead of city rivals AC Milan.
To help him in his quest, Inter’s directors put their hands into their pockets – perhaps more than was sensible – allowing Conte to bring in some established players on big wages as well as a few promising youngsters. Some of them were real hits, but there were a few misses as well.
We’ve ranked all 16 of the Conte-era signings who have turned out for the Inter first team.
16. Alex Kolarov
Inter paid Roma €1.5million for a 34-year-old Kolarov in September 2020, handing the ex-Manchester City man wages of €100,000 a week. It seemed an odd decision at the time and it still seems so nine months later.
Kolarov never really recovered from a disastrous debut against AC Milan and went on to make just three more league starts. Having boosted his bank balance, he’ll be released this summer.
15. Lucien Agoume
Signed as a 17-year-old in 2019, Agoume made three substitute appearances for the Nerazzurri in 2019-20 before being loaned out to Spezia in summer 2020, where he played 12 times.
The defensive midfielder has done little so far, but at 19 still has plenty of time to develop.
14. Valentino Lazaro
Lazaro arrived at San Siro not long after Conte, bought from Hertha Berlin after impressing in the Bundesliga. He was set to be used as a wing-back in Conte’s 3-5-2 system but did not settle well and was heavily criticised in the Italian press after a poor debut in October 2019.
“Conte’s the best coach I’ve ever had,” Lazaro said around that time. “He takes care of every detail, especially tactics.” Clearly the appreciation wasn’t mutual as Lazaro was shipped out on loan to Newcastle in January, where he also found the going tough.
For 2020-21, the Austrian was loaned back to the Bundesliga with Borussia Monchengladbach and looked more at home. He played 28 matches in total and scored a Giroud-esque goal of the season contender against Bayer Leverkusen in December.
This has to be the most outrageous goal we've seen this year! 🦂
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) December 24, 2020
13. Andrei Radu
Having been schooled at the Inter academy from 2017, Romanian ‘keeper Radu was sent out on loan to Genoa in 2018-19, played 33 games and was then signed on a permanent basis by the Genovese side for €8million.
Almost immediately, however, Radu was resigned by Inter for €12million (technically making him a Conte signing) and then loaned out to… Genoa. Weird, but there you go.
In 2020-21, 23-year-old Radu returned to Inter and became the back-up to Samir Handanovic, playing a game and a half after Handanovic picked up a knock in February. In his one full game in nets, Radu conceded once as Inter won 3-1. It’s hoped he’ll eventually replace Handanovic when the Slovenian retires.
12. Andrea Pinamonti
Pretty much exactly the same transfer pattern as Radu for Pinamonti. God bless, Serie A.
Anyway, Pinamonti made eight Serie A appearances for Inter in 2019-20, scoring once in a 5-1 thrashing of Sampdoria in May. At 22, the centre-forward still has a bit of time to develop into the finished article.
11. Matteo Politano
Politano spent the season before Conte’s arrival on loan at Inter from Sassuolo and made more appearances for the Nerazzurri than any other outfield player in 2018-19. It was little surprise, then, that Inter signed him outright for €20million come the summer of 2019.
Winger Politano was not a natural fit for Conte’s 3-5-2, however, and played just 11 times in the first half of the 2019-20 season before Conte decided he’d seen enough and sanctioned a loan to Napoli.
Politano has now spent a fruitful 18 months in Naples, playing 70 games and scoring 13 goals, earning himself a place in Italy’s preliminary Euros squad.
10. Arturo Vidal
Vidal was one of the men dispensed with as Barcelona threw out baby and bathwater in the summer of 2020 and was snapped up by Conte, under whom he’d played at Juventus. There was no transfer fee, but Vidal’s wages were considerable. If we’re frank, it hasn’t been a great investment.
He was widely chastised for his profligacy in front of goal, was sent off for squaring up to referee Anthony Taylor in the Champions League and, in January, was accused of kissing the Juventus badge on Giorgio Chiellini’s shirt before the Derby d’Italia. Bad move, Arturo, bad move.
Vidal did score in that game to make up for it, but he has not contributed a great deal since, which is mostly down to injury. He last played for Inter in early March and will likely move on this summer.
Marseille is being mooted as a destination, a move which would see him link back up with another former boss in the short, stout, perpetually moving shape of Jorge Sampaoli.
9. Diego Godin
Conte signed old warhorse Godin in the summer of 2019 to bring a bit of title-winning experience into the squad – and he did help them to the Europa League final in 2020 and to within a point of eventual Serie A champions Juventus.
Yet after just one season he was released and signed on for relegation battlers Cagliari. “Antonio Conte told me he had a different idea,” Godin explained in an interview with Canal 10. “He had a project with younger players. I knew I’d need to play all the games to stay in shape for the national team, where I’m the captain, so the best thing was to change teams.”
Not an Inter flop, exactly, but not a rip-roaring success.
8. Christian Eriksen
Eriksen had wanted to leave Tottenham for some time before he finally got his wish, moving to Inter for a reported €20million on a whopping €10million-a-year deal in January 2020.
It took him time to adapt to Conte’s physical and tactical demands, but he eventually got there, performing well in the second half of the season as Inter stormed to the title.
“Things changed when I had more time to work with him, and also I needed him to realise there is attacking and defending in football,” Conte told Sky Italia in April. “He took a while to adapt to a very tactical style of football that we have in Italy.
“We tried in every way to get him settled and tried various roles. I know he can do much, much better. He is becoming more aggressive and showing more intensity, which certainly benefited the whole team.”
Christian Eriksen steps up when it matters most for Inter! A wonderful free-kick deep in Coppa Italia stoppage time…
What a moment to send his team through to the semi-finals at their rivals' expense! 🎯 pic.twitter.com/3M7V8CqnGM
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) January 26, 2021
7. Stefano Sensi
Solid but unspectacular, Sensi was brought in on loan in 2019, signed permanently in 2020 and has made 39 Inter appearances over two seasons.
Mostly featuring from the bench, the 25-year-old deep-lying playmaker has been a useful, technically capable squad player for Inter and made the cut for Roberto Mancini’s provisional Italy squad for the Euros.
Reports suggest that Inter are open to offers for the midfielder and are willing to sell for the same €25million it cost them to bring him in.
6. Alexis Sanchez
After an unmitigated disaster of a spell at Manchester United, Conte provided Sanchez with an escape route in summer 2019, taking him on loan for Inter.
After taking a while to get back up to speed, Sanchez finished the 2019-20 season with four goals and eight assists in 22 league games, which was enough to convince Inter to hand him a three-year deal.
He is another on a mega salary, but he has gone some way to justifying it, bagging seven more goals and five more assists in 12 starts and 18 sub appearances in 2020-21.
5. Matteo Darmian
Signed on loan in the summer of 2020, Darmian has proved a fantastic addition, not only for his defensive solidity and versatility, but for the way he transformed himself from plodding defender to match-winning superstar forward towards the end of the campaign…
4. Ashley Young
Another low-cost signing from Manchester United (in terms of the fee, at least), Young arrived at Inter in January 2020 for €1.5million. He has gone on to become a hugely important cog in Conte’s machine, playing left and right wing-back and getting 34 games under his belt in 2020-21.
After Inter had secured the Scudetto, Young told Sky: “It’s obviously nice to win the Premier League and then to go to a new league and win that as well is just incredible, an unbelievable feeling.
“It’s never easy to leave a club in January, but I’m looking back now and I think I made the right decision. I always wanted to go out and win. I’ve got that ambition, drive and desire to win.”
He may well move back to England this summer, but Young signed off in style, scoring the opening goal on the last day of the season as Inter beat Udinese 5-1.
3. Achraf Hakimi
Hakimi cost €40million from Real Madrid in the summer of 2020 and has taken Inter to another level. The Morocco international took to Conte’s right wing-back role like a duck to water and contributed seven goals and eight assists in 37 league games this season – he is a defender only on paper.
He has clearly enjoyed working with Conte, telling Gazzetta dello Sport: “Conte’s greatest strength is that he brings everything out of his players. He taught me to focus not just about attacking, but also defending, and I learned an aspect of the game that I didn’t really know very well. I have improved a great deal over the last year.
“He works on the details and that makes it easier for us once we are in a match situation, knowing there are no surprises, because we prepared for every situation we might face.”
2. Nicolo Barella
Barella joined Inter on loan in 2019 and then permanently in 2020 and has been a revelation. The little midfielder is classy and feisty in equal measure and has been consistently brilliant, starting the second most Serie A games of any outfield player for Inter in 2020-21.
He is still only 24, so will only get better and could go on to become a real Inter legend – so long as they are not forced to sell him.
In May, Inter legend Nicola Berto told Il Giornale: “He knows how to do everything. Barella has quality, class, elegance and substance and he’ll be Inter’s captain for the next 10 years. What more do I need to say?”
1. Romelu Lukaku
Another signing from Manchester United – but not a cheap one at a club-record €80m. Lukaku, though, has proved to be worth every cent, being Inter’s main man for the past two seasons, transforming the team into one capable of winning major silverware and transforming his own game as well.
Conte referred to his work with Lukaku as “polishing a diamond” and my goodness has Lukaku shone.
Twenty-four goals and 11 assists in 2020-21 made Lukaku one of the outstanding players in Serie A, and the Belgian striker gives great credit to Conte for his improvement.
After Conte announced his departure, Lukaku took to Instagram to send the Italian coach a heartfelt message. “[In] 2014 we spoke for the first time and we have had a bond ever since,” Lukaku wrote. “We had many moments to work together but only god knows why it never happened earlier.
“You came at the right time and basically changed me as a player and made me even stronger mentally and more importantly we won together! Winning is and it’s all that matters to you and I’m glad that I have had you as a coach.
“I will keep your principles for the rest of my career (physical preparation, mental and just the drive to win…) it was a pleasure to play for you! Thank you for all what you did. I owe you a lot.”