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End of the line? Conte and Inter at a crossroads after one season

Antonio Conte’s future at Inter Milan looks increasingly uncertain after just one season, with the Italian coach hinting at his departure to rub salt in the wound after another night of bitter European disappointment.

Inter’s 3-2 Europa League loss to Sevilla in Cologne left Conte searching for an international trophy to add to his league titles in Italy and the Premier League.

“Conte, are you leaving?” asked the Gazzetta dello Sport on Saturday, while Corriere dello Sport were already saying “goodbyes” to the coach who took over in May 2019.

An Italian team has not won a European trophy since Inter secured the Champions League to complete a treble under Jose Mourinho in 2010.

“Now we’ll return to Milan, we’ll take a couple of days off. We will try to plan the future of Inter with or without me,” said Conte.

“I didn’t like some situations,” continued Conte without elaborating, although he insisted his relationship was good with the club’s Chinese owners and fans.

“I have an excellent relationship with (club president Steven Zhang), just like with his father,” Conte said, as the former Juventus coach thanked “the real Inter fans who supported me despite being a sporting enemy”.

But Conte’s relationship with club CEO Giuseppe Marotta is reported to be tense.

A divorce could prove costly for Inter with Conte’s contract running until 2022 and worth a reported 12 million euros ($14 million) a season.

Eternally dissatisfied

It has become a familiar story for the 51-year-old Conte who despite his success rarely hangs around for the long haul. 

His three-year spell at Juventus is the longest of a career already spanning seven clubs.

Even after a first season that saw Inter close the gap on Juventus to just one point at the top of Serie A, Conte plunged his future at the San Siro into doubt when on the final day of the domestic season he claimed he and his players had been offered “little protection from the club”.

“I’m not going backwards. If we can improve things, we will, otherwise we will see. 

“I don’t want another year like that.”

Conte has had a positive impact on most of the teams he has managed.

He took Bari and Siena into Serie A, began Juventus’ hegemony of the Italian top-flight by winning three straight titles, 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.

As during his time at Juventus and Chelsea, Conte blamed a Champions League group-stage exit on a lack of investment even though Inter smashed their transfer record to sign Romelu Lukaku for 75 million euros ($89 million) as part of the fourth-highest transfer spend in Europe.

On Friday, Zhang praised Conte for “doing a great job”.

But the situation needs to be clarified with the Serie A season set to resume on September 19.

Allegri in wings

The Italian press are already talking of Massimiliano Allegri, who succeeded Conte at Juventus back in 2014, and went on to win five league titles, as a likely candidate.

Allegri has taken a sabbatical after his departure from Turin in 2019, and would have the task of toppling Juventus under coaching novice Andrea Pirlo, and preventing his former club lifting a 10th consecutive Scudetto.

But despite Conte insisting “priority becomes football or family” he could decide to remain on for another season and try and win a European trophy which he lifted as a player with Juventus, in the 1996 Champions League and the UEFA Cup in 1993.

The game is in Conte’s blood.

“I grew up on bread and football,” he said of his first steps taken when father Cosimino coached Juventina Lecce. 

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