Why did Antonio Conte and Inter Milan gamble on Victor Moses?
Victor Moses' move to Inter Milan from Fenerbahce was at once unexpected and yet unsurprising. Yes, there's a bit of oxymoron there, but bear with me.
Injury worries restricted Moses to just seven appearances in all competitions for the Turkish giants this season, leading to deserved speculation that he would be on his way in this January transfer window. No surprise there.
What came out of left field was his destination.
Inter Milan was not the most likely of landing spots when the conversations about his exit began. If anything, the general consensus appeared to be that he would return to Chelsea, who had been unable to add to their squad in the summer due to a transfer ban. There, he could either be an additional, experienced body in Frank Lampard's squad, or head out on another loan.
So it came as something of a surprise when Inter not only emerged as the suitors but also swooped in and concluded a deal in almost record time.
By then, of course, the deal made perfect sense. Antonio Conte is famed for setting up his teams to play in a very specific way and with very specific personnel, preferably known quantities as opposed to unknowns.
The Italian arrived at Inter Milan with a clear brief from the owners to do whatever it takes to reel in runaway champions Juventus. Essentially, take down the monster he had helped create -- by building from the ground up.- Transfer Grades: All the big moves rated
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Conte's acquisitions in the summer were all geared towards doing just that, and players who could not fit into his 3-5-2 system found themselves shown the door -- such as former leading striker Mauro Icardi, midfielder Radja Nainggolan, and forward Ivan Perisic.
In came the likes of forward Romelu Lukaku from Manchester United, and youngsters like Stefano Sensi and Nicolo Barella in midfield, as well as fullbacks Valentino Lazaro and Cristiano Biraghi. And this is where we come to Moses.
Despite the addition of the youngsters, Conte stuck to his tried-and-tested wing-back system with Kwadwo Asamoah on the left and Antonio Candreva on the right. Candreva's situation is particularly reminiscent of Moses's in Conte's first season at Chelsea.
Chelsea had been loaning Moses to just about the whole world and their brother, and the forward was due for another loan deal. That is until Conte intervened, assessed him and re-tooled him from a straight-up winger to a wing-back. Moses flourished, Chelsea won the title and a European trophy, and all looked well with the world. At least until Conte was acrimoniously fired, and everything was reset to zero.
Candreva had been on the verge of leaving Inter before Conte arrived, but the former Juventus coach has worked his magic again, just as he had done with Moses, and the Italy international saw new life breathed into his career.
Which brings us to another bit of contradiction: Why Conte's pitch for Moses at once makes makes no sense and also perfect sense.
To address the first issue, the question is, with a surfeit of options in that position: Why add Moses to the mix? In addition to the rejuvenated Candreva, and the youngster Lazaro, Inter also have Danilo D'Ambrosio and Diego Godin also could arguably also fit in there.
The explanations come down to Conte himself. The manager is so fixated on his system and his personnel that he usually sticks to playing a core group with little rotation unless compelled to do so.
Through the first 16 games of the season, Candreva played 12 times, D'Ambrosio seven (three as a centre-back, and the others as a substitute at right wing back), and Godin nine, mostly as the right centre-back. Those players are all past 30, and their age is telling, with injuries creeping up. Candreva suffered back issues in December and D'Ambrosio suffered a muscle tear.
Lazaro, who has only been trusted with limited minutes as a substitute, has been loaned out to Newcastle United in the English Premier League, leaving Conte with a hole to fill. That hole is what Moses is expected to plug.
Moses' fellow African Asamoah patrols the opposite side of the field to that which the Nigerian is expected to play, and he has explained Conte's demands.
"It is Conte who wants the wing-backs, every time we have the ball, we need to be as forward as possible, where the attackers are," Asamoah said. "For us wing-backs, the task is to push when there's something to do and defend when there's something to defend."
These are demands that Moses both understands perfectly and is used to. And he is the right age, too. At 29, he is neither too young -- like Lazaro -- nor over 30 like Candreva and D'Ambrosio.
For quality, work ethic and performance, there can be no doubt that Moses should be a hit with the Nerrazurri. His recent history of injury could undermine him, although Moses has assured Conte that he will be fit and ready
Having retired from the Nigeria Super Eagles, he has no international commitments to distract him, and with Ashley Young also joining Inter, from Manchester United, as a wing-back (and supplying an assist on his debut on Sunday), there should be plenty of time for R&R as the season skittles into the business end.
That is when Moses' quality and experience will become important.
Inter are now just three points behind Juventus in the title race, and there is still all to play for this season. Moses could just be the trump card that Conte needs to overhaul his former employers and deliver joy to his current ones.