Inter Milan

Antonio Conte on cusp of changing Serie A landscape for second time

Max Cooper
Apr 11, 2021, 3:50 PM GMT+1
Hands in the air if you're about to win Serie A
Hands in the air if you're about to win Serie A | Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Superstitious Inter supporters won't thank me for saying this, but I Nerazzurri have all-but ended their decade-long drought for the scudetto.

Serie A's league leaders were not at their best on Sunday afternoon, but they didn't have to be in order to earn their 11th consecutive win in a 1-0 victory over Cagliari - opening up an 11-point gap on nearest rivals Milan.

With eight games to go, and with little in the way of a major competitor in this title race, Inter are basically home and hosed. It's been common knowledge for some time that the title was heading back to Milano this season, although we wrongly assumed it would be early runaway leaders Milan wearing the crown at the end.

I Rossoneri's form did not stand the test of time, and in a period when their Nerazzurri rivals normally crumble, Inter instead grew to a crescendo. And while many will point to the unsustainable and unrealistic expectations of their city enemies, or the appointment of rookie coach Andrea Pirlo at current champions Juventus, there's just one fact we have to accept:

This title win is all on Antonio Conte.

Yes, Inter have spent a lot of money, and yes, their recruitment has been pointed towards immediate success, and yes, I Bianconeri's poor season has helped them race ahead considerably. But this is not the Italian coach's first rodeo.

Antonio Conte
Celebration time | Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

He has already changed the landscape of Italian football once in his coaching career, taking a Juventus team which couldn't reinvent itself after the calciopoli scandal, and turning them into serial winners.

Conte took over in 2011, won the Old Lady's crown back, defended it another two times, and then walked away with his head held high. He managed to topple Massimiliano Allegri's Milan side and the treble-winning Inter of 2009/10, setting Juventus on the track from which they have finally derailed this year.

He did what Claudio Ranieri, Ciro Ferrara, Alberto Zaccheroni and Luigi Delneri couldn't do. He returned Juve to their perch in the aftermath of disgrace, and set the wheels in motion for a decade of relentless glory.

All good things must come to an end though, and it only feels fitting, then, that the man who built it up from the ground is the very same man taking a sledge hammer and knocking everything down.

Since Conte arrived at Inter in May 2019, the Italian giants have only improved. Last season's second-placed finish was seen as a failure by some, who believed Juve were there for the taking. They just fell short, but it was the perfect recipe for the taskmaster to demand more cash and build the team of his dreams.

The arrival of Achraf Hakimi has been the tipping point, with the wing-back fitting perfectly into Conte's 3-5-2 system. His signing has fed the talismanic partnership of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, while the rebirth of Christian Eriksen has got Inter through some tight matches in 2021.

Conte couldn't have been happier with Inter's winner on Sunday, with Hakimi setting up fellow wing-back Matteo Darmian to score the perfect goal in this system. The Inter boss gave Hakimi a big sloppy kiss in the celebrations, and said after the game that he feels like an 'older brother' to this group.

"I lived with high intensity match for 95 minutes, mine was a reaction to embrace the effort made by the boys," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"They get rewarded with the hug and also with a kiss as I did with Hakimi. I consider myself an older brother to them and they know the affection I feel towards them. I am ready to throw myself into the fire for them and I think this is appreciated." 

Conte is enjoying that golden period where everything slots into place and every player responds well to his methods. Something which, when it's good, is so, so good.

Basically, everything has come up Inter this season, and even if their European adventure ended prematurely, I Nerazzurri won't care one jot when they're lifting the Serie A trophy in May.

It's been a long time coming - ten years in fact - but the wind has changed in Italy, and Conte's flowing locks are bouncing majestically in the breeze. He's done it again, guys.