Sunday August 25 2019
Conte: 'The chase is on, but Icardi...'

Antonio Conte won’t open the door to Mauro Icardi, but tells Inter “the chase is on” in the Scudetto race, starting with Lecce tomorrow night.

It kicks off on Monday at 19.45 UK time (18.45 GMT), click here for a match preview.

“The first objective for this season is to ensure the fans can recognise themselves in this squad, to create enthusiasm within them, but we know the only way to achieve that is through hard work,” said the Coach in his Press conference.

Juventus and Napoli both started their campaigns with victories on Saturday.

“I always said that I wanted to feel even a one per cent chance of competing for victory. We are building something important here and I can say that the chase is on.

“We aim to close the gap, which is pretty large, from the top two Juventus and Napoli. I don’t set limits, only time will tell what we are fighting for, but we’ve got to work even better than the rest if we want to achieve something extraordinary.

“Aside from investments and reinforcements, it’s crucial to build solid foundations. We have to concentrate on ourselves and making our fans proud. If we manage that, then it’s a big step forward.

“I set myself a high bar and try to transfer that to the players so that we have no alibis. I am happy with the progress we’ve made so far with the club and squad. I am happy when I arrive for training, because I know I’ll meet up with players who sacrifice themselves to achieve our vision. That is not something to be taken for granted.”

Inevitably, Conte was asked about Icardi, who has been given a shirt number for this season, but is not expected to be in the squad.

Is Icardi’s presence despite not being wanted going to disturb the club and team?

“I have great respect for everyone, but I don’t feel any disturbance,” replied Conte.

“We are working hard, we know full well what approach has been taken with the player, but it is not causing any disturbance for me.”

After months of negotiations, Inter finally got Romelu Lukaku from Manchester United at a cost of €65m plus bonuses.

“Lukaku arrived full of enthusiasm. He is a very joyful guy to be around and the team immediately welcomed him into their hearts. He was on the margins of the Manchester United squad for a while, so is not at 100 per cent, but has immense potential and can improve in every area.

“I tried him out alongside Lautaro Martinez, Matteo Politano and Sebastiano Esposito, so I am pleased with the synergy that is forming between these players.”

There were question marks over how Conte would be welcomed, considering his long association with Juventus as both player and Coach.

“I never sought empathy in my experiences, it has to come naturally. I am who I am, in good and bad, in matches, in training and in Press conferences. I don’t try to ingratiate myself with fans. When I take on a club, I totally embrace their cause.”

Curiously, his debut on the Inter bench will be against hometown club Lecce, who return to Serie A.

“Naturally, this is an emotional fixture for me. It was a remarkable draw, but I am above all happy to be facing Lecce in Serie A. They’ve had two incredible seasons and really deserved that promotion. Inevitably, we are opponents tomorrow, but I have strong bonds with Lecce.”