ROME (Reuters) -Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte has terminated his contract one year early just days after leading them to their first Serie A title in 11 years, the club said on Wednesday.
Conte, who joined Inter in May 2019, agreed to depart after Italian media reported he had been left unhappy with plans to reduce investment and cut costs due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“FC Internazionale Milano can confirm that an agreement has been reached with Antonio Conte for the termination of his contract by mutual consent,” read a club statement.
“The club would like to thank Antonio for the extraordinary work that he has done, culminating in Inter’s 19th top-flight title. Antonio Conte will forever remain a part of our club’s history.”
The 51-year-old’s ambitions to improve his squad were at odds with the club’s financial situation, with Inter reportedly looking to slash the wage bill by 15-20% and make 70-100 million euros from player sales before next season.
Sky Italia reported that Conte was not convinced by the plans, which include the possible sale of a key player, and that Inter will hand the coach a severance payment of around 7 million euros ($8.53 million).
Former Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri and current Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi have been named in Italian media as potential successors.
“As well as the professional side, where the daily work was amazing, I will miss the human side of a great group,” Inter vice-president Javier Zanetti wrote on Instagram.
“Always together, united, with our heads towards the objective for the good of Inter, despite all the difficulties.
“I wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything you have done for us, for Inter, where you won’t be forgotten and you have written another page of our long, extraordinary history.”
Speculation over Conte’s future has been rife for months due to the financial problems facing the club and its owners, Chinese retail giants Suning.
Suning shut down Chinese Super League champions Jiangsu FC, who they also owned, in February.
This month, Inter president Steven Zhang made a plea to players and staff to give up two months’ wages, but it was rejected, and the club have since secured 275 million euros ($336.35 million) from Oaktree Capital Management to help balance the books.
Inter made the high-profile signings of players like Romelu Lukaku, Christian Eriksen and Achraf Hakimi during Conte’s tenure and their arrivals spurred the club to great success.
“2014 we spoke for the first time and we have had a bond ever since,” Lukaku wrote on Instagram.
“We had many moments to work together but only God knows why it never happened earlier. You came at the right time and basically changed me as a player and made me even stronger mentally and more importantly we won together!
“Winning is and it’s all that matters to you and I’m glad that I have had you as a coach. I will keep your principles for the rest of my career (physical preparation, mental and just the drive to win…) it was a pleasure to play for you!”
Conte masterminded a superb domestic campaign for Inter, wrapping up the Serie A title with four games to spare and accumulating 91 points, the second-highest total in the club’s history after the 97 they amassed in 2006-07.
Inter finished no higher than fourth for eight years before Conte’s arrival, and ended the 2018/19 season 21 points behind champions Juventus.
But Conte made an immediate impact in his debut season by leading the club to the runners-up spot in Serie A, reducing the gap to Juve to one point, and to the Europa League final, where they lost to Sevilla.
They went one better in 2020-21 as Conte’s side blew away the competition domestically to end Juventus’ nine-year stranglehold on the league crown and finish 12 points clear of nearest challengers Milan.
The coach constructed a balanced side fired by the goals of strike partners Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez and marshalled by a mean defence that conceded a league-low 35 goals.
The achievement also saw Conte, a three-time Scudetto winner as Juventus coach between 2011 and 2014, become the first manager to gain 90 points or more with two different teams in Serie A since three points for a win was introduced in 1994.
However, they disappointed in the Champions League, finishing bottom of their group and winning one of their six games.
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(Reporting by Alasdair MackenzieEditing by Toby Davis)