Antonio Conte parted company with Inter Milan on Wednesday just days after lifting their first Serie A title in 11 years amid clashes with the club’s cash-strapped Chinese owners on the way forward.
The ambitious Italian refused Suning’s planned cost-cutting which would have prevented him from building the team he wanted to challenge at home and in Europe.
The former Chelsea and Juventus boss took over in May 2019 on a three-year contract worth a reported 12 million euros ($14 million) annually.
But the 51-year-old leaves the San Siro one year early, Inter confirming “an agreement has been reached with Antonio Conte for the termination of his contract by mutual consent”.
Severing Conte’s contract has cost the club a reported seven million euros ($8.5 million), while his final year’s salary would have been around 12 million.
As part of the deal, Conte will not be allowed to coach another Serie A club next season, according to reports.
Among the names being touted to replace him are Lazio boss Simone Inzaghi and former Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri, who has also been linked with a return to the Turin club.
For Conte, future destinations could include Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid.
A demanding coach, whose training sessions were described by Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku as ‘like a war zone,’ Conte leaves Inter at the summit of Serie A, a feat last achieved by Jose Mourinho, who won the treble with the club in 2010.
It was a fifth league title for Conte having won three with Juventus between 2012 and 2014 and the Premier League with Chelsea in 2018.
But tensions had been ongoing, having already threatened to leave last summer after losing the Europa League final to Sevilla and finishing second in the league to Juventus.
Despite a second Champions League group stage exit this season Inter clinched their 19th Scudetto with a 12-point lead on AC Milan and with four games remaining.
“This is one of the most important successes of my career,” Conte said.
“Deciding to join Inter was not easy, the team was not equipped to win immediately.
“Furthermore, the opponent was Juventus for whom I had worked for a long time. Today we can say that our sacrifices have paid off.”
Conte rebuilt the ‘Nerazzurri,’ getting the best out of players including former Manchester United star Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez and Nicolo Barella, while others like Christian Eriksen and Ivan Perisic overcame initial difficulties to adapt to Conte’s style.
Captain Samir Handanovic and Lukaku both paid tribute to Conte on social media.
“You came at the right time and basically changed me as a player and made me even stronger mentally,” said Lukaku, Inter’s top scorer the past two seasons.
“Winning is all that matters to you. Thank you for all you did. I owe you a lot.”
Slovenian Handanovic, 36, who won his first trophy after nine years with the club, added: “You were the one who always raised the bar and put the right pressure on everyone… the one who made the difference. Thanks mister.”
Inter registered losses of 100 million euros ($122 million) last season mainly due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Suning Group shut down their Chinese club Jiangsu FC in February months after winning the Chinese Super League title.
Five days ago, Inter secured a cash injection worth 275 million euros with US investment firm Oaktree, in the form of a loan reported to be over three years.
In this context, Suning wants to save as much as possible both on the purchase of new players and salaries, and possibly selling those with the highest value, an approach unacceptable for Conte.
Conte’s three-year spell at Juventus remains the longest of a career already spanning seven clubs, and the Italian national team.
He took Bari and Siena into Serie A, began Juventus’ nine-year domination of the Italian top-flight, guided an unfancied Italy to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 and won the Premier League in his first season at Chelsea.
But he has never tasted European success, falling short with both Juventus and Chelsea before his near-miss with Inter.