When Inter sacked Luciano Spalletti and hired Antonio Conte over the summer, it seemed like I Nerazzurri’s prayers had been answered.
The Italian giants were fed up of living in Juventus’ shadow, so after hiring an ex-Juve coach and an ex-Juve Sporting Director, Inter were ready to challenge their arch enemies in their own authentic style.
Conte has gone about his business at San Siro with typical ruthlessness, stripping his squad down to a select group of players, then complaining that he doesn’t have a big enough team to compete at the highest level.
While ?Inter were fielding a much-weakened midfield due to injury, and desperately searching for a goal against Barcelona on Tuesday night, the bombed-out Radja Nainggolan, Ivan Perisic and ?Mauro Icardi were probably watching with a rye smile, wondering if Conte was regretting the extreme measures he had taken against the trio.
And so that leads us nicely on to Tuesday’s harrowing evening for the Interisti, who crashed out of the Champions League at the group stages – again – after a home defeat to Barcelona’s youth team.
It was the second successive season that I Nerazzurri have failed to make it out of their group, and for Conte, it was not a new sensation either.
Inter’s recent USP has become the tagline ‘Inter – not for everyone’. Well, the same slogan could be applied to their coach’s torturous relationship with the Champions League.
Sometimes, a competition is just not one of your strengths, or in this case, it’s just not Conte’s cup of tea.
With another disappointing failure under his belt, 90min takes a look back at Conte’s ultimate bottle jobs in Europe’s most prestigious tournament.
There was no Champions League football during Conte’s debut campaign on the black and white bench, but ?Juventus’ first season back in Europe’s biggest competition ended in a comprehensive 4-0 aggregate defeat to ?Bayern Munich.
However, newly-crowned Serie A champions Juve then entered the 2013/14 edition with plenty of expectation that their
Conte’s side won ONE game out of the opening five fixtures. This included a 2-2 draw with Copenhagen, a dramatic tie with Galatasaray, who looked beaten when Juve took a 2-1 lead in the 87th minute. The Turkish giants then went up the other end of the pitch to equalise just one minute later, putting I Bianconeri back in a sticky situation.
The Old Lady went into the final game of the group stages needing only to avoid defeat against third-place Galatasaray, and she’d be on her way to the knock-out rounds. But CALAMITY!
Wesley Sneijder bagged an 85th minute winner for the Turkish hosts, sinking Conte and co. down into the depths of the Europa League.
They had been well and truly Conte’d.
Conte managed to get Juve to the Champions League final in the following season, but they suffered a humbling 3-1 defeat at the hands of ?Barcelona, whose lethal strike force of ?Neymar, ?Luis Suarez and ?Lionel Messi tore the Old Lady into black and white ribbons.
Much like his time at Juve, Conte’s arrival at ?Chelsea coincided with the club’s temporary slump, so (fortunately for the Italian boss) there was no European football to mess up. The former Italy boss worked his domestic magic though, and the Blues cruised to the Premier League title in 2017.
Sadly, domestic success means only one thing – Champions League football.
Chelsea were favourites to qualify from Group C, with ?Atletico Madrid, Roma and Qarabag as their opponents. Conte did manage to navigate a successful passage into the Champions League knock-out rounds, but his side Conte’d it up and had to settle for second place.
The London club threw away a two-goal lead at home to Roma, and then were on the end of a 3-0 hammering in the reverse fixture at the Stadio Olimpico.
Conte’s punishment for failing to top their group was a tie with Barcelona, who – as proven by Roma later in the competition – could be got at very easily. Chelsea showed no signs of ever threatening the Catalan giants, and Conte Conte’d once again on the big stage, losing 3-0 at Camp Nou to end their adventure in the round of 16.
He must have been pulling his hair out.
And so we arrive to the present day.
Conte’s Inter are sitting top of the Serie A table, and they look set to launch a proper title challenge for the first time in almost a decade. Heartbreak for the ex-Juve boss however – Inter qualified for the Champions League last season.
On the face of it, their group was the so-called ‘group of death’, pulling Barcelona and ?Borussia Dortmund along with Slavia Prague. But scratch a bit deeper under the surface, and there was plenty more cause for optimism.
This Barcelona side is a far cry from their team of old, and they are only sitting joint-top of La Liga due to the deficiencies of their floundering competitors. Meanwhile in Germany, Dortmund can’t string a run of positive results together and have a shockingly leaky backline which is begging to be exploited.
Inter started the tournament with the easiest game of the lot: at home to the whipping boys. Safe to say, they really Conte’d this one up. The hosts saved themselves from complete embarrassment, snatching a 1-1 draw with Slavia Prague during the dying embers of the match – but it was a far from ideal start.
Inter then went to Camp Nou, possibly their hardest match of the six, and played some incredible football, but ultimately Conte’d it up in the second half, throwing away their one-goal lead to lose the match.
An impressive 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund put I Nerazzurri back in control of their fate, and they took a brilliant 2-0 lead going into half-time of the reverse tie in Germany. This was it. This was the moment Inter and Conte broke their horrific cycle.
Nah. They Conte’d the F out of this one. Three second-half goals from Dortmund left I Nerazzurri with plenty to do, but somehow victory in Prague then put them back in the driving seat going into the final match, despite their constant screw-ups.
All Conte needed to do was secure victory against a Barcelona side that doesn’t travel well, that was already qualified and had left Messi at home. Yet, somehow, that tagline just kept resurfacing in their minds: “Not for everyone”.
Barcelona’s second-string team frustrated Inter for large parts, and although the hosts had three goals disallowed for offside, Ernesto Valverde’s side killed the contest with five minutes remaining, and Conte was left to pick up the pieces of another European dream gone rogue.
Still, there’s always the Europa League, Antonio…