ROME (Reuters) – Italian media predicted the imminent end of coach Antonio Conte’s time at Inter Milan on Wednesday, even as the club basked in the glow of becoming Serie A champions again after an 11-year-wait.
Milan-based Gazzetta dello Sport ran the headline “Conte-Inter divorce” and predicted a separation within the next 48 hours.
Corriere dello Sport wrote that the relationship was “finished” and that lawyer Angelo Capellini, who deals with contracts and negotiations, was at the club offices for a second consecutive day to oversee a contract termination.
Sky Italia reported that a mutual agreement for Conte’s exit, a year before his contract expires, was being worked on.
The reports followed revealing comments from Conte’s assistant Cristian Stellini after the 5-1 win over Udinese on Sunday when Inter, having already sealed the title at the beginning of May, got to lift the trophy.
“We are enthusiastic about continuing but when you have a top coach, he requires a top project too,” Stellini told DAZN.
“The sale of top players could change things but it’s up to the club to make clear what the situation is.”
Stellini’s comments struck at the heart of the issue: Conte would like to stay and Inter would like to keep him, but his ambitions are at odds with the club’s financial situation.
Speculation around the manager’s future has been rife for months, to the extent that he stopped attending news conferences towards the end of the season to avoid fielding awkward questions.
Conte’s two seasons at the club have been very impressive: he led Inter to runners-up finishes in Serie A and the Europa League in his debut campaign, before winning the title this year.
Since the former Chelsea manager took over in 2019, Inter have splashed out on blockbuster signings of players such as Romelu Lukaku, Nicolo Barella, Christian Eriksen and Achraf Hakimi.
Investment in Conte’s squad accelerated their path to success and the coach wants that to continue to achieve his next target of making a mark in Europe, following a disappointing Champions League group-stage exit this season.
However, Inter are now looking to cut costs after taking a big financial hit during the coronavirus pandemic.
Club president Steven Zhang made a plea to players and staff to give up two months’ wages this month but it was rejected.
Inter have since secured 275 million euros ($336.35 million) from Oaktree Capital Management to help stabilise the situation but cuts will continue.
They are now reportedly looking to trim the wage bill by 15-20% and make 70-100 million euros from player sales before next season.
Some less-used squad players will go, but it appears likely that one of the club’s star performers will need to be sold to reach the financial targets and Hakimi, Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez are among those being linked with moves away.
None of this is what Conte, a ferociously competitive and ambitious character, signed up for.
($1 = 0.8176 euros)
(Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie; editing by Clare Fallon)