The blue side of Milan has become something of a safe haven for Manchester United undesirables in recent times.
With Romelu Lukaku, Ashley Young and Alexis Sánchez all moving to Inter in the past year, Antonio Conte is now understood to be keen on securing the signature of Chris Smalling.
The defender was deemed surplus to requirements at Old Trafford by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last summer, and was subsequently loaned out to Serie A side Roma.
Some quality performances during his time at Stadio Olimpico have seen the Giallorossi desperate to make the move permanent. However, they face stiff competition from champions Juventus and runners-up Inter.
Should Conte prevail in the race to sign the 30-year-old, the move would make a lot of sense for everyone involved.
Having looked a phenomenal talent during his short spell at Craven Cottage, Smalling’s United career never really took off. Despite two Premier League winner’s medals and 31 England caps, the centre-back failed to truly live up to the hype which had surrounded him as a youngster.
Despite a mini renaissance in 2015/16 – making 35 league appearances and being named Manchester United’s Players' Player of the Year – in truth Smalling looked good in a very average team, with the likes of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo offering little in the way of competition.
Smalling’s time at United has undoubtedly gone stale; along with Jones, the England man was once seen as the future of the Red Devils defence, though both have been the subject of heavy criticism from swathes of the Old Trafford fanbase, and will forever be associated with the club’s demise post-Sir Alex Ferguson.
Cashing on in Smalling seems a smart move for United, but why would signing such a lambasted centre-back represent solid business for Inter?
Well, Conte is renowned for being defensively astute – making David Luiz look a world-class defender during his time at Chelsea – and Smalling’s time at Roma proved what a quality defender he could be once the shackles of playing for arguably the biggest club in the world were off.
The former Blues boss generally favours a back three, and if he hopes to stick by his preferred formation and embark on another title tilt, defensive reinforcements are badly needed.
Milan Škriniar is undoubtedly the best defender at the club, while former Lazio man Stefan de Vrij is likely to retain his place in Inter’s starting XI next season. However, beyond this Conte’s options are severely limited.
With Diego Godin looking a shadow of the player he was at Atlético Madrid, the 34-year-old could well be set for pastures new this summer, while the error-prone Andrea Ranocchia can’t be depended on week in, week out.
Alessandro Bastoni looks an exciting prospect, though his youth and lack of physicality may be a factor in Inter looking to bolster their defensive arsenal.
The capture of Smalling would see Conte sign an international centre-back with experience of Italian football, who at 30 years of age is in his prime as a defender.
Not only will the United man bring valuable nous to the team, his willingness to step out from the back three is exactly what Conte looks for in either a left or right-sided centre-back, while his strength and aerial ability could easily see him slot into the centre of a back three.
It’s fair to say Smalling’s dream move to Old Trafford hasn’t panned out as he would have hoped – despite picking up more than his fair share of silverware – but his spell at Roma has proved he’s a quality defender who still has a lot to offer at the top level.