Antonio Conte is Inter Milan's dream hire, but would he deliver?
The axe has finally been swung: Having already given the players a stern talking to, Inter owner Jindong Zhang sacked Stefano Pioli on Tuesday evening, leaving youth team Coach Stefano Vecchi to take over for the second time this season,
Luckily for despairing fans, it appears that Zhang had had enough of the Nerazzurri's slide, and is determined to put his own stamp on the club's handling of sporting matters by focussing on hiring Antonio Conte -- the best candidate for the job at this point.
With fellow dream pick Diego Simeone looking set to remain in Spain next season, it looks like Inter are all-in on Conte.
As much as this blog has warned fans not to be too optimistic about Inter's chances of hiring the Chelsea boss, or even of his ability to miraculously cure all of the club's ills, there is little doubting Conte would represent a huge step forward in Suning Group's bid to get the Nerazzurri taken seriously -- both in Italy and on the world stage.
For starters, Conte would bring about the quick turnaround in results required to get Inter back where it matters: the Champions League. Having helped Juventus morph from a middling club to a rock-solid, Scudetto winner in just one season, the Lecce native is exactly what Inter need to finally be considered an elite club in Italy.
Though Suning spent nearly €130 million last summer on revamping the squad, you can hardly say the Nerazzurri deserve to be considered anything more than a sleeping giant right now, proving time and time again they're not even good enough to play in the Europa League, and not avoiding it for its inconvenience.
Conte's second-best selling point is his ability to keep the troops motivated, even for apparently meaningless games. While the sacked Pioli couldn't shake Inter out of their torpor -- Danilo D'Ambrosio essentially admitted that the players had "lowered their guard" in recent weeks -- Conte is best remembered for giving his players the hairdryer treatment ahead of the final match of the 2013-14 season, despite the fact that Juventus had already wrapped up the title weeks before.
Though Pioli has been repeatedly defended in this space, it's hard to argue that Inter will miss his tactical nous, which has gone walkabout in recent times. While Conte has won his fair share of big games both in England and Italy, Pioli threw away his chance to prove he could counter elite opposition, blowing a 2-0 lead against Milan and letting Lazio, Roma and Napoli (twice) walk all over him.
In fact, Conte may even have improved as a strategist since his days in Turin, where his 3-5-2 could look slow and predictable in Europe. Inheriting a hodge-podge squad in London, he quickly played to the defence's (limited) talents by turning the tables on the Premier League with an innovative 3-4-2-1 formation.
Though one of Inter's major issues this season has been the abundance of (randomly) assembled midfielders, their dream coach sounds like the right man to coax the best out of even the most unexpected player, as he did in his first season in Juventus with Simone Pepe, to name one.
Beyond the tactical dimension, hiring a big hitter like Conte would be proof Suning have taken over the sporting side of things, too, having spent the first season trying to reform Inter's commercial operations. Moreover, the Nerazzurri will presumably back this coach, not fail to defend him when the going gets tough, as Piero Ausilio and Javier Zanetti did before Frank De Boer was fired.
That said, it would be too much for fans to expect immediate successes. With the Nerazzurri expected to respect financial fair play regulations and balance the books by the end of next season, this limited squad can't be reinforced as lavishly as it was last time round, making a top four finish (and Champions League football) the most realistic target. When Conte took over Juventus in 2011, Serie A was far weaker than it is today, where the Bianconeri can win the league with one hand tied behind their backs.
A further concern is Conte's desire for transfer powers, something that led to his departure from Juventus, and is the current sticking point in negotiations with Chelsea. How will Inter reconcile this with the recent hiring of Walter Sabatini as the "technical coordinator" of all of Suning's clubs, including Jiangsu and the (as-yet unknown) European club they plan to buy?
Though not a panacea by any means, there is no denying that hiring someone like Conte is the best quick fix Inter fans can hope for.
Edoardo Dalmonte covers Inter Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @EdoDalmonte.