A long time, 11 years to be exact, has passed since Inter last ruled Italian soccer. In 2010, Jose Mourinho signed off by winning a second successive Scudetto and an historic Treble which culminated in a famous victory for the Nerazzurri over Bayern Munich in the Champions League final.
Inter won the Coppa Italia the following season, capping one of the most successful periods in the club’s history. It also marked the start of a spiral from which the San Siro outfit have yet to escape. Now, though, with Antonio Conte at the helm, Inter are once again on the brink of glory, on course for another Scudetto.
This season has been a memorable one for Inter. While Conte’s side suffered an early exit from the Champions League, they have surged to the top of the Serie A table on the back of seven straight wins. The former Juventus boss appears to be on the verge of achieving his ultimate goal of toppling the club he used to coach.
But not all is well at the San Siro. Indeed, Inter’s on-the-field performances and results are in stark contrast to those off-the-field, with the club’s Chinese owners, Suning, struggling to keep their head above water. Suning is under intense financial pressure due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the retail sector. Inter also posted a loss of €102 million in their latest financial results.
The case study presented by the Chinese Super League club also owned by Suning isn’t exactly encouraging for Inter. Bought in 2015, Jiangsu Guoxin-Sainty, renamed Jiangsu Suning, spent big on the signings of world-renowned stars like Ramires and Alex Teixeira. Fabio Capello was hired as the club’s new manager and Jiangsu Suning won their first CSL title in November.
Within a matter of weeks, though, Suning folded the club entirely amid financial difficulty. Players weren’t always paid on time in the final season, hinting at what was to come, as Suning bit off more than they could chew with a £523 million deal for Premier League TV rights in China which has since collapsed.
Suning is reportedly open to the notion of selling Inter, but finding a buyer for a club with one of the most bloated wage bills in Italian soccer in this deflated global economy will prove tricky. The ownership is rushing to raise $200 million to make various payments due this summer, but beyond that greater solutions will be required. A full or partial sale might be the only escape route.
Since his appointment in the summer of 2019, Conte has more than once publicly implored Inter’s owners to spend big in the transfer market. And more than once he has voiced his disgruntlement when that hasn’t happened. Now, we are learning why Suning weren’t always willing to get the check book out for their manager.
Nonetheless, Inter’s net spend of €352 million over the last five years is still the highest in Italian soccer. No club has spent more. Conte is currently the highest-paid coach in Serie A on a salary of €11 million. For context, that’s reportedly as much as Andrea Pirlo, Gian Piero Gasperini, Paulo Fonseca and Stefano Pioli combined.
Inter didn’t spend a cent in the January transfer window, though, and there is a sense that Conte’s team will be pulled apart after this season. “The project stopped in August,” the 51-year-old recently admitted, with all signings made after the €40 million deal for Achraf Hakimi either free or loan additions.
The vultures are already circling ahead of a potential fire sale at the San Siro this summer. Reports in England this week claim Arsenal are hoping to take advantage of Inter’s perilous financial situation with a move for Hakimi. Manchester City have been linked with a move for Romelu Lukaku with Lautaro Martinez also a long-term target for Barcelona, who are currently suffering serious financial issues of their own.
It could be now or never for this particular group of players to win a Scudetto. Inter are four points clear of AC Milan and the rest of the chasing pace at the top of the Serie A table and there’s no sign that they will run out of steam before the end of the season. They might, however, run out of money — a situation that could define Suning’s ownership of the club over any piece of silverware.