There was one thing about Inter’s home meeting against Roma that everyone knew even before kick-off: the game mattered little for both teams. Inter had already achieved their goals, and Roma’s had gotten away from them.
In spite of this, as the referee blew the whistle, shouts were the only noise breaking an otherwise silent night at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza – most of them came from Inter players, amongst whom Romelu Lukaku seemed particularly ignorant of the festive atmosphere that would’ve surrounded the team in normal times.
After taking to the streets to celebrate the Scudetto with his own fans just 10 days earlier, the Belgian was back in his Conte-mood – his screams started with the team’s build-up, when the ball was still at the other end of the pitch, as either Ionut Radu, Andrea Ranocchia or Milan Skriniar repeatedly received guidance on what to do next.
While one could argue that Lukaku’s attitude came from his desire to put an end to a one-month goal drought, something rather normal for a prominent striker, the selflessness he showed by assisting Matias Vecino from a good position proves otherwise.
As well as that, Lukaku emerged as a leader of a group of players perfectly tuned with him. The likes of Nicolo Barella, Matteo Darmian and Alexis Sanchez all looked pervaded by the same spirit and eagerness, to the point that the vocal cords of their mentor Antonio Conte could rest, at least for part of the night.
It’s been a tormented week for Inter, one during which the inner turmoils slightly overshadowed the difficult task the team has just accomplished. In such context, the level of focus and dedication that the players are showing even in the latest, less meaningful games, is very telling about the mindset that Conte has been able to create over the last two seasons – it goes deeper than the simple desire to win matches with a view to the final goal, as it has more to do with a winning culture that brings out the best in the players regardless of the opponent or occasion. It was shown as Inter beat the Giallorossi 3-1.
It’s something rare, which Inter have definitely lacked over the last decade, and while it’s hard to predict how things will pan out, the Nerazzurri’s ownership must realise the importance of what they were gifted with.
Preserving the mentality that Conte has brought must be Suning’s priority, more than keeping every single top player or even the coach himself – it’s about protecting Conte’s legacy and making sure that it’ll be passed on.