How Simone Inzaghi’s ‘freedom’ helped turned Inter Milan into Serie A’s team to beat

If you listen to Inter Milan players speak in recent months, they all have shown praise and have given credit to Simone Inzaghi for the work done since the start of the season. The ex-Lazio coach took over Nerazzurri managing duties last summer right after Antonio Conte’s departure, with pressure coming from a club that lost key players such as Achraf Hakimi and Romelu Lukaku — after Christian Eriksen’s cardiac episode — but had just won the Serie A title.

By account, those were the three best players on that roster. Hakimi joined PSG for approximately €70 million and the dynamic Belgian striker made his return to the Premier League with Chelsea for €115 million. Lukaku himself had the most surprisingly positive comments about Inzaghi, especially when you consider that they barely worked together.

“I knew him a little because he coached my brother at Lazio. And my brother spoke very highly of him to me. Inzaghi has a very human relationship with everyone and as a coach, even if we haven’t worked so hard together, he is at the top of the list for me,” Lukaku told Sky Italia in a bombshell late-December interview where he expressed his desire to return to Inter at some point in his career.

“Inzaghi is also very strong tactically. His teams score a lot of goals. I know his form because my brother had him for five years at Lazio and I knew he could give this extra step in managing the team. They haven’t played like last year, they play harder. Many players are scoring, [Hakan] Çalhanoğlu is doing well and I’m happy for him. The team has taken this step forward.”

Players have a tendency to label Inzaghi as “one of them,” as if he were still a player because he puts little-to-no barriers between him and the team. It was a noticeable characteristic from his Lazio days, but it seemed pretty natural since he was managing Lazio, a team in which he had spent all his life as a player. Being able to bring his coaching characteristics to Inter Milan was the first fundamental step forward — but being himself, provided a fresh and different context.

A difficult summer

When Inzaghi was introduced as manager on June 3 on a two-year contract, there was a bit of a worrisome atmosphere hovering around the club. Conte parted ways a few days prior because he essentially thought his aspirations and ambitions were not aligned with those of the club, even if they had just won the scudetto for the first time in 11 years.

Nine days after Inzaghi’s appointment, the club was hit with another shocking bit of news when Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest during his international duty with Denmark at the Euros. It was an incident that completely changed the plans of the club. From the outside looking in, it seemed as if those working inside the club needed to pick up a ton of pieces ahead of the new season if they wanted to thrive and defend the crown. Soon after, the club chose to sign Turkish midfielder Hakan Çalhanoğlu who spent the previous four seasons at rival AC Milan. The move was made within hours of the Eriksen health incident and a signing that has already paid dividends this season.

The sale of Moroccan winger Achraf Hakimi, who arrived just a year earlier and considered by many to be the best right-backs and most versatile wingers in Serie A was a crushing blow. As if that wasn’t enough, Lukaku then pushed for a move to Chelsea later in August, despite always publicly promising he’d stay at the club. Selling Lukaku was another monumental summer departure as fans began to speculate a fire sale with concerns over other key cogs of the squad such as Lautaro Martinez or Nicolò Barella. The club quickly worked to replace those players in the most efficient way possible, landing AS Roma captain Edin Dzeko, who Inzaghi is obviously familiar with in Italy and then poaching one of his loyal players from Lazio. Argentine midfielder Joaquin Correa packed his bags and left Lazio for Inter for approximately €30 million. To replace Hakimi at right-back, the club swiftly signed 25-year-old Dutchman Denzel Dumfries from PSV for around €12 million.

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