How will Antonio Conte improve Inter Milan?
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Despite another Champions League qualification, Luciano Spalletti is out of a job. It's familiar terrain for the 60-year-old who has changed jobs four times in the last decade. On Friday, Inter Milan concluded plans to push him back into the labour market and appoint former Juventus, Azzurri and Chelsea boss, Antonio Conte.
Spalletti's 2017 arrival came at the perfect time. The Nerazzurri were in helpless decline, losing ground to Juventus. Unable to challenge on the homefront, European nights were just a fantasy. The club's fall from glory was steady until just before the erstwhile Roma and Zenit St Petersburg boss walked through the door.
Inter finished a disappointing seventh that campaign with 62 points. The club was closer to the relegation gutters than Champions League paradise. Once highly revered, the Nerazzurri dugout became a testing ground for tourist managers. Four tested their proficiency.
Roberto Mancini was fired just weeks before the start of the season. His replacement, Frank De Boer, lasted under three months. Stefano Pioli couldn't finish the season either. Youth-team coach Stefano Vecchi mopped up.
Spalletti was a stabiliser. It didn't take him long to strike upon the magic formula at the Giuseppe Meazza. He created a resolute defence and nurtured his prolific attackers. Comparisons were drawn with Jose Mourinho, the last manager to achieve continental glory in the city. In hindsight, pundits may have gotten ahead of themselves.
In his debut campaign, the ex-Roma boss guided Inter to the Champions League for the first time in seven years. He repeated that feat last season while coping with a depleted squad and an overbearing Mauro Icardi.
For all his tactical ingenuity, though, Spalletti wasn't welcomed. Club president Jindong Zhang's pursued Conte relentlessly against insurmountable odds. Spalletti was never more than a stalling tactic.
To be fair, Conte's CV glitters in comparison. His apprenticeships under Marcelo Lippi, Giovanni Trapattoni and Carlo Ancelotti informed his understanding of how football should be played. Then he expanded on their vision to fashion his own brand. His style of management is abrasive and blunt, his football sharp. Three Scudettos and a Supercoppa with Juventus, a quarterfinal run with Italy in Euro16 and a Premier League title and FA Cup with Chelsea followed. Spalletti owns two Russian Premier League crowns, three domestic cups and two Supercups split between Russia and Italy.
Conte reinvigorated Chelsea's appetite for winning after Jose Mourinho demoralised the squad. For all that, his values resemble the Portuguese's. Hard work and a passion for the collective top his list. Attitude and discipline are missing from Spalletti's locker. The Tuscan clashes with players, media and fans everywhere he works. Bizarre press conferences and awkward answers to journalists, when asked legitimate questions, are the wrong Mourinho traits to emulate.
Conte's intensity and his heart-on-sleeve sideline antics appeal to supporters. His open feud with the Chelsea brass counts against him but one anticipates he didn't accept this appointment without guarantees of financial backing.
Now it just remains to be seen whether his year-long hiatus has recharged his batteries and he can deliver the same success to the Nerazzurri that he has to his previous employers.