It’s fair to say Luciano Spalletti’s two-year tenure at Inter was a pretty successful one.
Sure, stagnation and dysfunction may have led to his departure at the end of the 2018/19 campaign, but the two-time Serie A Coach of the Year nonetheless returned the Nerazzurri to the Champions League for the first time since 2012 and oversaw the move which saw Lautaro Martinez arrive in Milan.
But the act which may well leave Interisti most grateful was his decision to veto Marcelo Brozovic’s switch to Sevilla in January 2018.
If Brozovic’s move to Spain had gone through, cries of ‘good riddance’ instead of desperate pleas to stay would’ve been prominent among the Inter faithful at the time. Very few could’ve foreshadowed the footballer the Croat would soon evolve into.
After he joined the club on an initial 18-month loan deal from Dinamo Zagreb in January 2015, Brozovic proved frustratingly inconsistent.
The Croat carried this unjustified and equally unbearable arrogant persona with him which didn’t exactly make him a fan favourite at San Siro. He was also disciplined early in his Inter career by then-boss Frank de Boer after he refused to stay on the Inter bench following his half-time substitution in a Europa League contest at Hapoel Be’er Sheva in September 2016.
Amid moments of brilliance, Brozo’s continued petulance and seeming unwillingness to develop meant that in the eyes of many he would never be a success at the Nerazzurri, or at any other top European club for that matter.
Even his blocked move didn’t serve as an immediate kick up the arse for Brozovic.
The following month, he decided to go on a ‘kick whatever you see’ spree after his substitution in a 1-1 draw with Crotone, before his relationship with the Nerazzurri fans reached an all-time low just a week later.
After he was substituted prior to the hour mark in Inter’s 2-1 victory over Bologna, the Croatian midfielder responded to the jeers which filled San Siro as he strolled off the turf by applauding sarcastically back at the crowd, fanning the flames of the Interisti’s indignation.
But it was perhaps this moment which served as the watershed moment in Brozovic’s Inter career and the catalyst for an almost unthinkable resurgence.
He’d eventually finish the 2017/18 campaign in fine fettle, dismissing any chance of an imminent sale as he gradually went about rebuilding his reputation with the Interisti. That summer, he’d go on to play an underrated role in Croatia’s route to the World Cup final in Russia – with his function in Zlatko Dalic’s 4-3-3 somewhat foreshadowing the role he’d play in Inter’s 3-5-2 midfield under Antonio Conte.
His conversion from a mercurial box-to-box talent to disciplined defensive midfielder was complete when Conte took the reins last summer and he’s well and truly established himself among the elite in his position this season.
Typically sitting behind the dynamic midfield pairing of Nicolo Barella and Stefano Sensi – more recently Christian Eriksen – Brozovic serves as the metronome in Conte’s side. Everything goes through the Croatian.
As the more advanced midfielders occupy wider areas, Brozovic – who persistently receives off one of Inter’s three superb centre-halves – is tasked with finding the strike partnership of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez as efficiently as possible. But with his capacity to play raking vertical passes, it’s a job he’s mastered thus far.
But for all his verticality, press-resistance and capacity to turn defence to attack with a lung-busting ball-carry, it’s Brozo’s work out of possession which has thrust him into the conversation as one of Europe’s finest and, ultimately, back into the good books of the Interisti – a reputation he continued to restore with a fine 2018/19 season.
Blessed with this uncanny running style that almost looks like he’s never in control, the sheer intensity at which Brozovic approaches absolutely everything is staggering. He’s the linchpin in Conte’s typically high and intense press, setting the tone from midfield with his frightening capacity to suffocate opponents like a ravenous reticulated python as the Nerazzurri blitz their way into early leads through their sheer willingness to win back possession high up the pitch.
While his desire to contribute to his side’s work in the final third often leaves him in an unfavourable position from a defensive perspective, Brozovic’s willingness to eat up ground in defensive transition along with his supreme game-reading skills mean he’s so crucial in protecting Conte’s back three from counter-attacks.
Nevertheless, despite Brozovic’s stellar campaign, it’s been Lukaku this, Lautaro that in regards to Inter’s faltering Scudetto charge. The 27-year-old’s tireless work in the middle of the park has often been overlooked as a result of the aforementioned pair’s brilliance.
The Croatian starred in both Derby della Madonnina matches against Milan this term, igniting the Nerazzurri’s unforgettable 4-2 comeback victory back in February with a fantastically-taken left-footed volley from outside the area – highlighting his capacity to strike from distance.
In fact, his seven goal contributions in Serie A this term are akin to the numbers he was putting up as an arrogant, petulant box-to-box maverick.
But the way in which he applies himself and goes about his work under Conte is completely unrecognisable compared to the mannerisms of the unjustifiably cocky character who rocked up in Milan five years ago.
Brozovic’s evolution at Inter has been nothing short of remarkable, and although the Nerazzurri look set to fall short this time around, there’s no doubting the Croatian will be a key spoke in Conte’s wheel as ‘The Godfather’ goes about re-establishing the Nerazzurri among Europe’s elite.