Antonio Conte hit back at Inter President Steven Zhang, Massimo Moratti and his critics after walking away from the Nerazzurri. ‘My project never changed. I earn a lot, but I earn clubs even more money.’
The tactician broke his silence in a lengthy interview with the Gazzetta dello Sport after terminating his contract with Inter by mutual consent, largely because the club had to cut costs both on the market and in terms of wages.
“I did feel sad just days after celebrating the Scudetto, but that was immediately replaced by the enormous satisfaction of meeting fans who showed their affection, respect and gratitude. Their ‘Thanks Mister’ is worth as much as a Scudetto to me,” said Conte.
“It’s when people realise what we achieved, how much effort and dedication I put into it over the years, the enormous work we did to take the club, team and fans where they deserve to be. I gave everything and the fans know that.”
Yet Conte was criticised by both current Inter President Steven Zhang and former patron Massimo Moratti for seemingly running away from a challenge during the club’s time of need.
“I won’t deny, I was surprised and upset by Moratti’s words, but we spoke on the phone and he apologised for the phrases that didn’t reflect his real thoughts. Anyone who knows me realises how much I care about every club that I represent. I dedicate myself heart and soul.
“Wherever I have been, I’ve built squads that win, laying the foundations for future work. Some coaches leave teams with champions who have been squeezed dry, whereas I always left with young players who improved and gained in value on the transfer market. A unified group with a winning mentality, something you cannot buy, because it’s all in the detail and the daily work. I am demanding with everyone, but above all with myself. I don’t play to take part. I play to win. That’s why clubs call me.
“Everyone expects victories with me on the bench and the evaluation of a side changes in my presence. I accept that, I know it’s my responsibility. Winning is very difficult, but following that up and winning again is even harder.”
Conte also rejects the idea he is such a stressful presence that he cannot last more than two or three years with any team.
“It’d be too easy to say if someone feels stressed at this level, it’s just because they are called to give their best and evidently either got lazy or didn’t deserve to be there in the first place.”
The negotiations with Tottenham Hotspur collapsed partly due to his salary demands, partly for his insistence on massive investment in the transfer market.
“I earn a lot, but I earn clubs even more money. If I was obsessed with money, I would’ve stayed where I was in the past and accepted compromises, but instead I look at the project and am prepared to stay at home if they are unconvincing. It’s a matter of vision, professionalism and intellectual honesty, principles I will not walk away from.
“I like challenges and if you look at even the big clubs where I worked, they never started out as favourites when I took over.”
President Zhang confessed after replacing Conte with Simone Inzaghi that the coach no longer shared the same ideas, as what was not fundamental for him, was fundamental for the club.
“My project never changed,” replied Conte. “I don’t want to stir up controversy on the market or anything else. I respect President Zhang, I thank him for choosing me, I care about Inter, the team and the fans, so I wish Simone Inzaghi all the best. He is a good, capable, ambitious coach and I wish the Nerazzurri the utmost success.”
There was one final swipe at his critics after the Scudetto triumph, Inter’s first in 10 years.
“It’s an ugly habit in Italy, we want excellence and then destroy it. Everyone talks, judges and points the finger. Perhaps it’s because mediocrity brings everyone closer together, but I refute and fight that idea.”